NFL 2020 Draft Eligible QBs — Second Tier

The first round of the NFL’s first ever virtual draft is in the books, and all four QBs I looked at last ended up going. Joe Burrow, as predicted, was taken No 1 overall, and is eager to get to work with the Bengals. He was phenomenal at LSU, and hopefully we can expect more of the same with Cincinnati. The question now is whether they can get their organization together to build enough around him and not hinder his development with organizational dysfunction. We should all be rooting for Burrow to succeed; him ushering in a new era for the Cincinnati Bengals and the NFL would be a fantastic thing to watch.

Next, the Dolphins, I believe, 100% did the right thing. Despite all the pre-draft talk, they did not trade up and did not go for Herbert. They instead did what we all thought would be a sure thing a year ago, and took Tua Tagovailoa. Sure, Tua’s health may not be a sure thing moving forward, but the potential is too high to pass this up. The Dolphins had been building up to this moment for a while. If Tua ends up being injured, you can always try again for someone else. But his upside is simply too high to pass up on, and I think this move will pay dividends for Miami. In Herbert, the Dolphins would have been getting a sporadic passer who likely would not have been able to cover up the holes on the roster. Instead, they get an efficient and dynamic ball distributor who has exceeded expectations at just about every stop in his career. Sure, there will probably be growing pains. But Tua is the type of player this pick is meant for.

Speaking of Herbert, he was the next QB taken at six by the LA Chargers. I don’t have a ton of thoughts about this pick. The Chargers parted ways with longtime starter Philip Rivers earlier this year. They needed a QB, and he was the logical next guy. We’ll see how it goes. I talked about Herbert in my last piece, and I have my doubts. Of course, he has a pretty good skillset, so it could definitely workout too. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s a terrible pick and he has no chance. I just think there are more holes and questions there than with the other two guys. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The last QB taken was the biggest surprise, not necessarily because he was taken, but just because of where he went. It was Jordan Love to the Green Bay Packers. If you thought the Aaron Rodgers/Packers drama was over now, boy do I have news for you. Get ready for a whole new offseason of Gossip Girl: Green Bay Packers edition!

For now, there are six more rounds to go, so let’s go ahead and take a look at the next batch of draft eligible QBs.

Tier 2: To Each Their Own


These are the QBs that you’re going to see a wide range of opinion on. Some will view them as top QBs, while others are going to think they wouldn’t be worth a pick until much later rounds. It ultimately will depend upon what you’re looking for, how you view certain attributes, and how you think these guys will transition their game to the NFL.

Jacob Eason


Eason came to the University of Georgia in 2016 as a highly rated 5 star recruit. He worked his way into the starting lineup early on and had a middling season as the bulldogs finished 8-5, but 4-4 in the SEC. The following year, Eason got hurt during the first game of the season and true freshman Jake Fromm took over. Fromm would take Georgia to the National Championship that year, and Eason decided to transfer to the University of Washington. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Eason had to sit out the 2018 season. He played his junior year at Washington and started all 13 games before declaring of the NFL Draft. Washington went 8-5 and 4-5 in the Pac-12, in part due to attrition, and longtime coach Chris Peterson decided to retire shortly after the season. However, Eason had a solid season, completing 64.2% of his passes for 3132 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions.

Eason’s skillset lives up to his recruiting status. He’s 6’6” and 227 pounds with a big time arm. Arm strength is Eason’s main selling point, and it’s immediately evident upon watching him. He can simply make throws that other QBs can’t.

Eason is a bit of a throwback QB: He’s a big, pocket quarterback with a big arm who will stand strong in the pocket and throw downfield. Greg Cosell of NFL Films compared him to Carson Palmer, and I certainly see that comparison. 

To me, Eason simply looks the part playing the position. I personally liked him more than Justin Herbert. While Herbert to me looks a bit awkward in the pocket, Eason looks like a natural back there. Though he played mostly out of the gun, he does have some experience under center with play action. There are some questions about his accuracy and play under pressure, but I believe it’s coachable. To me, the coaching and system fit is huge for Eason. If you find a program that’s willing to work with him and commit to him, he can develop. If not, he might fall by the wayside.

To that extent, I think the bigger question about Eason is whether there’s a place for guys like him in today’s NFL: That is, big, strong-armed, immobile pocket passers. In recent years, the NFL has moved towards smaller, more dynamic athletes. Eason can certainly move better than someone like Philip Rivers (most QBs can), but mobility is generally not his game. I think this shift has been apparent with the fate of two recent quarterbacks: Zach Mettenberger from LSU and Josh Rosen from UCLLA, both of the pure pocket passer mold. A decade ago, both these guys would have been looked at as top picks, but in today’s game, both were given up on quickly in favor of more athletic guys. Mettenberger fell to the sixth round (in part because of injury concerns) and played for about half a season before the Titans drafted Marcus Mariota to replace him. Similarly, Josh Rosen was drafted in the first round and played one season on a horrible Arizona team before the new coaching staff replaced him with Kyler Murray and shipped him to Miami. There, they too showed little patience in Rosen, and his future is currently up in the air.

I think Eason’s a really good prospect. Whether or not he’ll be given an opportunity to succeed, is an open question. So much of whether these guys succeed or fail is about the situation they end up in, and Eason will certainly be no different.

Jalen Hurts


Jalen Hurts had a really interesting college career, and he comes to the draft as a very interesting prospect. Hurts came to Alabama in 2016 as a different kind of quarterback than Nick Saban was used to. Jalen was a dual threat QB who posed a lot of danger to defenses on the ground. As a result, Nick Saban rebuilt his offense with the help of Lane Kiffin, finally embracing the type of spread/option/no huddle attack that he had resisted for so long. He did so in order to create an offense that played to Jalen’s strengths as a runner, and it worked wonders for Bama.

In two years at Bama, Hurts was 20-2 as a starter. During his freshman season, Alabama went into the Championship game against Clemson undefeated, only to lose to Deshaun Watson and the Tigers in the final seconds of the game. The following year, Hurts again took Bama to the Championship game, losing only to Auburn along the way. Except this time, Hurts was benched for Tua Tagovailoa at the half, who went on to lead the comeback win and hold onto the Bama starting job. Hurts produced the following during his two years starting at Bama:

2016: Pass: 62.8% comp, 2780 yards, 7.3 y/a, 23 TD, 9 INT
           Rush: 954 yards, 5.0 y/a, 13 TD

2017: Pass: 60.6% comp, 2081 yards, 8.2 y/a, 17 TD, 1 INT
           Rush: 855 yards, 5.6 y/a, 8 TD

Heading into the 2018 season, Tua was the clear starter at QB for Bama, as it was very evident that he was the superior passer over Jalen. Yet, Nick Saban continued to praise Jalen and was hesitant about anointing Tua the starter full on, which culminated in an infamous post-game blowup with Maria Taylor.

This gives you an idea of the kind of respect Jalen commanded at Bama. Despite being forced to bench him because of Tua’s play, Nick Saban really did not like the idea of benching Jalen Hurts. And the respect that Bama had for Hurts would only solidify during the 2018 season, where he decided to stay at Bama as a backup instead of transferring. This decision paid off for Hurts during that year’s SEC Championship game. Tua was hurt, and Jalen came into the game late and led Bama to a win–similarly to the way Tua had done so in the previous year’s championship. This time, their roles were reversed. Tua would start during the playoffs after healing up, but Jalen’s status as a legend in Tuscaloosa had been solidified.

But Jalen wasn’t done. The following year, he did ultimately pursue a transfer, and became eligible to start the 2019 season for the Oklahoma Sooners. Jalen had his best year as a starter, completing 69.7% of his passes for 3851 yards (11.3 y/a), and 32 TD to just 8 INT. He also ran for 1298 yards and 20 touchdowns. Hurts was still a runner first and foremost, but he had improved as a passer after his infamous benching at Bama.

Hurts and the Oklahoma offense started the season at a rocket pace and Hurts became the clear Heisman favorite. The offense cooled off for the second half of the year after the K-State loss, before ultimately losing to LSU in the playoff semifinal game 63-28. Joe Burrow took home the Heisman, but Hurts was the runner up (although it was not close).

The question now that will determine Jalen Hurts’s future in the NFL is this: Is he a good enough passer to succeed in the NFL? In other words, is he a quarterback, or is he just a runner that can also throw it?

This one will vary tremendously depending on who you ask. Some will applaud Hurts’s toughness, leadership, and production. They will argue that he has more than proved his ability, and that the league has evolved into allowing more running quarterbacks to have success. They might point to Lamar Jackson being overlooked in the 2017 draft, and claim that Hurts is suffering a similar fate, perhaps because of how we inherently look at black quarterbacks as “athletes”. They might also look at Dak Prescott, another guy who was overlooked coming out of college, but who has become relatively competent as a dual threat QB, and argue that Hurts could be similar.

Others will tell you that Hurts spent two years on the best team in football before being replaced by a clear superior passer. They will argue that his gaudy 2019 numbers have much more to do with Lincoln Riley’s system at Oklahoma than Jalen Hurts himself, and that Jalen simply isn’t good enough of a passer to make it at the next level.

I think both sides make good points, but I tend to lean toward the latter. In fairness, Jalen certainly did improve as a passer throughout his college career. But the difference between him and Tua at Bama was so stark that it’s hard to simply just ignore it. Tua would drop back in rhythm and pull the trigger into tight windows. Jalen, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a great sense of timing in the pocket, and at times will run before going through all his progressions. He also benefitted from a tremendous offensive line at Oklahoma. I remember reading earlier this year that the amount of time Jalen held onto the ball in the pocket, on average, was longer than the amount of time every NFL QB from last year held onto the ball, on average. Jalen certainly can make guys miss, and he’s a powerful and dangerous runner, but he’s not going to help his offensive line with a superb sense of timing and release. His arm is solid, but his windup is also a little bit longer than it should be. His footwork and timing (or lack thereof) is also noticeable when compared to his two predecessors, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, who both played with great movement and a pull-the-trigger mentality when compared to Hurts. Of course, Tua, Mayfield, and Murray were all phenomenal prospects, so it may seem a little unfair comparing him to them. But it also ain’t easy being an NFL QB. Those are the breaks. 

The other big question with Jalen Hurts is how you build your offense with him if you do want to draft him. Lamar Jackson had a ton of success the past two years in a tailor-made offense in Baltimore. He’s a different kind of passer than Hurts, but do you have to do something similar if you draft Hurts? That is, build an offense around his running skills? Are you willing to do that, and is Hurts good enough to merit that kind of treatment? Can that type of offense succeed with a passer who isn’t on the level of Lamar Jackson?

At times, Hurts reminded me of RG3 in terms of his fundamentals. That may seem a little unfair to some, and maybe Hurts is a little more polished. He’s certainly more mature, as RG3 did seem to struggle with some entitlement issues upon being crowned the next best thing so early in his NFL career. And RG3 had no experience with NFL routes in college, whereas Hurts has some. Hurts has dealt with adversity, and the intangibles are all there. There’s no doubt that the locker room will love him. The question will be, is that enough?

Again, it’s tough. I don’t think teams should dismiss Hurts off hand. He had a good college career, and teams should study that closely. The question is, once they do, will there be enough there to convince you that he can succeed at the next level?

Jake Fromm


Jake Fromm was recruited by Georgia in 2017. After incumbent starter Jacob Eason was injured in week 1, Fromm took the reigns and never looked back. He led the dogs to the National Championship in 2017 and would go on to start, I believe, every game for Georgia over the next three years. Although Georgia never got back to the Natty under Fromm after the 2017 loss, they would make the SEC Championship the next two years. During these past three years, Fromm was, to my knowledge, one of the best QBs to ever play at Georgia. Every year, he completed at least 60% of his passes with at least 24 touchdowns and no more than 7 interceptions. Fromm’s best year was 2018, where he completed 67.3% of his passes for 2749 yards, 9.0 yards per attempt, and 30 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions.

Fromm’s game is built around timing and rhythm. He does not have a big arm, and although he has a fairly quick release, he doesn’t always throw the tightest of spirals. Fromm compensates for his lack of arm strength with a superb sense of timing. He throws with plenty of anticipation and gets the ball out of his hands quickly, leading his receivers well before they make their break. Fromm is a pretty smart kid and generally knows where he wants to go with the football. He is efficient working the short to intermediate game. He does not take a lot of deep shots. He can throw deep efficiently when scripted, but struggles to go deep off of improvisation. At Georgia, Fromm was asked to keep the chains moving and avoid negative plays, and he did that very well. 

The big question with Fromm is if there’s a ceiling on his play. He was incredibly efficient at Georgia when operating a balanced attack. When he had to throw more than 30 times, or when Georgia struggled to run the football, however, Fromm struggled. Georgia won most of the games on their schedule during Fromm’s career, but each year there was one loss during the regular season where Georgia couldn’t get the run game going and the passing attack would uncharacteristically struggle. In 2017 it was Auburn, in 2018 it was LSU, and last year it was South Carolina. Fromm also struggled in Georgia’s 2018 bowl game vs Texas.

Georgia also never took the “next step” in beating Alabama or getting a National Championship under Fromm. In the 2017 natty and 2018 SEC Championship game, they gave up late leads to Bama. Last year they couldn’t get any offense going in the SEC Championship vs LSU. Fromm wasn’t always the problem in these games, but the fact remains that Georgia wasn’t able to finish against Bama. Georgia took some heat for not giving Justin Fields more playing time at QB in 2018 during their losses. Fields would eventually transfer to Ohio State and have a Heisman caliber season. It will be interesting to see how Georgia’s passing game looks this year with Jamie Newman at QB, who, like Fields, is more talented than Fromm.

Georgia’s passing game also went through a cold stretch during the second half of 2019, where Fromm wasn’t his usual self. Part of this can be attributed to injuries and youth at WR, as well as a new offensive coordinator. Outside of this stretch and the few games I mentioned, Fromm was a very efficient passer. However, the fact that this stretch was Fromm’s most recent stretch of play may have some NFL teams concerned. 

Fromm was an efficient QB for a big time SEC team, but his name hasn’t been mentioned much in draft news, so it’s possible the NFL doesn’t see him as a talent at the next level. However, I think there’s a lot to like with Fromm. He’s a timing and rhythm QB with pretty good twitch, release, accuracy, anticipation, and decision making. He’s also a very likable kid who’s easy to root for. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, and his size, while not awful, isn’t great (6’2” 219). Nonetheless, I think Fromm could be productive as an Andy Dalton type of player. Remember, Dalton was never the most gifted quarterback. He was drafted in the second round, but he still went on to start for the Bengals for 9 straight seasons, 5 of which were playoff years. Dalton set the bar for an efficient, ball distributor type of QB that could run your offensive effectively with enough team around him. I think Fromm could potentially do the same.


All of these guys have strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, it will be up to NFL teams to decide whose skillset translates to the NFL, and whether their strengths can be built upon while weaknesses are minimized. 

NFL 2020 Draft Eligible QBs — First Tier

It’s really hard to believe that the NFL Draft is actually tomorrow, but here we are. It’s also a bit surreal that all this offseason activity is going on despite the fact that, you know, we might not actually have a season this year. But the draft is moving forward regardless, so I thought I’d do some analysis on the key draft eligible players for the most important and most interesting position: the quarterbacks.

I didn’t get around to doing game-by-game analysis for these players like I did last year, but I did watch extensive highlights for all of them. I also have knowledge on at least half of these guys from watching them over the past few years during the college football season. So while the analysis may not be complete, I’m hoping to give you enough to have at the very least a general idea of who these guys are and what they seem to offer going into the draft. And it’s important to remember that no matter how much tape you watch of college players, predicting how they will do in the NFL is always a projection.

I’m splitting this into tiers, but I’m going to be somewhat loose with the rankings and the categories here. From a general sense, the order and the tier are based on general consensus. But I’m also going to mention in my comments what I think of these guys and if I view them higher or lower than where perception is. The further down the tiers are, the more subjective it will become. It will make more sense as I go along.

I probably ended up watching more guys than I’ll have time to write about, seeing as this is the day before the draft. My goal here is to get the first three tiers down, and then if I have time, I’ll do some brief analysis on the other guys in a separate article.

So, without further ado, let’s go ahead and get started. These are the QBs you should know about going into tomorrow night’s draft:

UPDATE: The draft is in a few hours and I only got to finish the first tier, so I’m going to release the next few in separate articles so I can get this one out there. Also, I’m not sure the browsers will be able to handle it if I add any more GIFs in one article…

Tier 1: First Rounders


We’ve seen and heard enough up to this point to be fairly certain that at least three of these guys are going to go in the first round, if not all of them. I’d say odds are fairly high that all of these guys go in the first round. That’s just the way the league operates these days. Teams can talk about how much they love their starters, but when your time comes to pick and one of these guys is available that you thought wouldn’t be available, you’re not going to leave him there. These four guys all have first round level attributes, and that’s going to lead to teams taking chances on them.

Joe Burrow


Very few things are certain when it comes to the NFL draft. Very few things, except for one: Joe Burrow is the best QB in this year’s draft. 

If you know anything… and I mean anything… about the 2019 College Football season, you know about Joe Burrow. If not, not to worry. I’ll do my best to explain.

Joe Burrow is about as good a rags to riches story that you’ll find. He started his first two college years at Ohio State, and was essentially a third stringer riding the bench. He would occasionally get some meaningless snaps late in blowouts. Most people–including players on his own team–did not know who he was.

To my knowledge, Burrow was neck and neck with QB Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State for the starting job during Spring 2018 practices, but a minor injury set Burrow back and Haskins ended up with the job. With that, Burrow transferred to LSU.

LSU, up to that point, was known for playing great defense with incredibly conservative–some would say archaic–offense. They ran an old school pro style offense. Under center, lots of run game out of the I-formation, game managers at QB, and incredibly slow paced. LSU’s defense was always a test for opposing teams, but due to their lack of offense and game changers at QB, they could never catch up with teams like Alabama in the SEC.

2018, Burrow’s first year as a starter at LSU, was much of the same. Burrow flashed at times–he led a late game winning drive against Auburn, kept pace with A&M during a crazy shootout, and finished the season strong with 4 touchdowns in LSU’s bowl game–but for the most part he was unspectacular, as was LSU’s passing game. And LSU was the same “good, not great” SEC 2nd place team.

2019 would flip all of that on its head, and no one would see it coming.

The run heavy, ball control, conservative offense that LSU had ran for years? Coach Orgeron decided to scrap all of that. In its place, he hired Joe Brady, a two year offensive assistant for the New Orleans Saints, to install a modern college football attack. Shotgun. Five wide. Read option. Tempo. This offense had all of it. And right from the get-go, they exploded. Leading the charge was Joe Burrow, who in one season went from a nobody to not just the best player in college football, but maybe owner of the best quarterback season in college football history.

The LSU offense was, to put it simply, unstoppable, as was their quarterback Joe Burrow. In fact, it’s hard to fathom just how good Burrow was this past season. He completed 76.3% of his passes for 5671 yards, 10.8 yards per attempt, a record 60 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions for a record 202.0 passer rating. LSU went undefeated and set a record for wins against top 10 competition, taking down No 9 Texas, No 7 Florida, No 9 Auburn, No 3 Alabama, No 4 Georgia, No 4 Oklahoma, and No 3 Clemson in the final, a 42-25 win. During the Oklahoma win, Burrow threw 7 touchdown passes in the first half.

Burrow was every bit as good on the field as his numbers were. He didn’t throw short passes or bubble screens on every other play. He didn’t rack up numbers against easy competition. He didn’t rely on yards after catch. Burrow did all this by running a full field progression offense and throwing the football deep down the field. And he was phenomenal. Per ESPN, the FBS average QBR under pressure is 11.8. Joe Burrow’s was 82.6. The next closest was Tua Tagovailoa at 44.1. Joe Burrow was so good last year that you really can’t put it in words.

So besides putting up arguably the greatest QB season in CFB history, what does Joe Burrow have to offer as an NFL QB? Well again, it’s tough to know where to start, because it’s not like there are just one or two things he does well. Most of the traits you look for in an NFL QB, he has.

Burrow had full command of the LSU offense. He was patient in reading the defense before the snap, identifying both the coverage and his preferred matchup. He was both patient in the pocket when he needed to be, but also able to get through his progressions quickly and isolate coverage. He had no problems reading the field. 

Burrow was rarely, if ever, late with his passes. He threw with tremendous comfort and rhythm from the pocket, always hitting receivers in stride so as to maximize run after catch within the timing of his routes. His ball location was tremendous; he consistently put the football in the only place his receivers could find it, regularly throwing away from the leverage of the defender.

Burrow was aggressive but never reckless. He went down the field as much as the defense allowed him, but he rarely put the ball in harm’s way. And he always knew where he wanted to go. When he was ready to go deep, he’d have the matchup right away. If not, he’d immediately find his checkdown. He was masterful throwing all over the field: short, intermediate, and deep. He got the ball out of his hands and let his receivers do their job, but he would also make plays by himself. In short, he was whatever quarterback you needed him to be. And perhaps most important, he was confident and resilient. You were never going to keep Joe Burrow down for a whole game. He would always find the answer.

What gets most people excited about Burrow is his functional mobility, his ability to move and reset with comfort and ease within the pocket. In this sense, he’s been compared to Tom Brady. Burrow has a very natural feel for the pocket and for buying time. And while he’s not a runner per se, you absolutely have to account for his legs. Watching LSU this year, I was shocked how rarely the offense had negative plays. If you got pressure on Burrow, he was able to sidestep you and find room to run forward for a few yards. It wasn’t the cornerstone of his game, but he was a very capable runner when he needed to be, and it was often the last thing you expected from him. 

Burrow’s arm strength isn’t spectacular, but it’s good enough to succeed at the pro level. He regularly threw deep without timing issues or underthrows. Burrow also is an easy thrower with a quick release who throws a very catchable football. That, to me, is more important than having a gun.

Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who is never one to give hot-takes, had this to say from his film analysis of Burrow as he transitions to the NFL (emphasis mine): 

Burrow consistently exhibited the needed traits to play consistently and effectively in the NFL: poise, vision, clarity, timing, pocket efficiency, precise ball placement, second reaction ability. Burrow is a high-level prospect with a chance to be an outstanding NFL QB, especially in a league now driven by timing and rhythm passing games.

In conclusion, Burrow is a passer that shows great accuracy (especially deep), command of the offense, reads the field well, throws with timing and rhythm, moves well within the pocket, makes good decisions, has proven success, throws a very catchable ball, and is both physically and mentally tough. There’s not much more you can ask for in an NFL prospect.

Tua Tagovailoa


Tua Tagovailoa isn’t quite the rags to riches story that Joe Burrow is, but his rise is still pretty tremendous in its own right. I covered it pretty in depth here, but in short: Tua came to Alabama as a highly touted recruit and started his first year on the bench behind the incumbent Jalen Hurts. Head coach Nick Saban pulled Hurts at halftime of the National Title Game that year with his team down 13-0. Tua came in and led his team back from 13-0, and again back from 20-7 before throwing the game tying touchdown in the fourth quarter and the game winning walkoff touchdown in overtime. It was the stuff of legends.

From that point on, Tua and Bama went on a full fledged assault of the rest of the league, as well as the record books, putting together two of the best quarterback seasons in FBS history. For a long time, Tua was looked at as the likely No 1 overall pick of this year’s draft, as the phrase “tanking for Tua” became popular among NFL fans. Two things derailed Tua off this track: First was Joe Burrow’s otherworldly rise (see above), and the other was Tua’s unfortunate injury history. Tua has had plenty of different injuries derailing him at different points of his CFB career. Often it was a recurring ankle issue, but his most recent and final season hit him with an unfortunate hip injury that saw Tua helicoptered off the field to the hospital, effectively prematurely ending his season. 

All this has made the picture on Tua’s NFL future somewhat murky, as there are whispers that he’s falling on NFL draft boards, mainly because of his injury, but at times because teams are doubtful about his NFL transition.

But make no mistake: Tua is an absolutely special player, and if it weren’t for Burrow, he’d easily be the best QB in the draft. 

Watching Tua play, there’s just a wow factor to his game. He makes incredible throws and plays time after time, play after play, week after week. He throws an incredibly accurate deep ball and he’s an aggressive passer, always looking for the big play and more often than not, finding it. He’s a very twitchy athlete, and there’s an urgency to his dropback, movements, and release. At times, he was reminiscent of Drew Brees, with an extreme twitchiness to his movements that often synced with the timing of his routes. What immediately separated Tua from his predecessor at Bama was his willingness to turn it loose into tight coverage toward the intermediate and deeper areas of the field. His mechanics are very tight. He always moves in rhythm with his reads. He’s not a pure arm guy, but he’s twitchy enough that his full body follow-through allows him to torque the ball very well.

Though Tua is generally a gunslinger, he’s shown the ability to throw with touch as well. During his senior year, Bama incorporated more pro-style concepts to the passing game, and he has experience progression reading off of NFL style rollouts and bootlegs. 

Lastly, Tua was phenomenal when it came to second reaction plays. Time after time, he made miraculous and seemingly impossible plays from within the pocket, shaking off defenders and finding receivers downfield in stride. He’s a superb dual threat QB with the ability to make plays on the ground as well as through the air, although this did diminish at times with injury.

The biggest concern with Tua is his injury history. He seems to have fully recovered from his last injury, but with the pandemic making it so teams can’t bring him in for a physical, teams may not be comfortable with his health without getting a look for themselves. And, as Albert Breer recently astutely mentioned, recent QBs that had injury histories in college tended to get injured in the pros as well.

There is some evidence that Tua needs work reading the middle of the field, as he threw interceptions vs Clemson and LSU that showed a misreading of zone defenders over the middle. There are also those that believe that Tua’s mobility may not be as much of a factor in the pros against NFL athletes than it was in college. Greg Cosell believes that Tua will have to play more like Drew Brees (a pocket technician) than Russell Wilson (an improv artist) to have success in the NFL.

Nonetheless, at the end of the day, Tua’s upside is simply too high to pass up on. He’s easily the second best QB in this draft, and I believe any QB needy team that passes him up for anyone other than Burrow is making a huge mistake.

Justin Herbert


Herbert played all four years of his college career at Oregon, which is somewhat unusual for top prospects this day and age, considering that NCAA athletes are eligible to declare for the NFL Draft after their junior year. Herbert chose to come back to Oregon his senior year in part to have a chance to play with his little brother (enrolled as a freshman this past year), but also likely to try and improve his draft stock.

A youtube commenter wrote that Herbert is what you would get if you tried to create the prototypical quarterback in a lab, and that’s about right. He’s 6’6” and 237 pounds, towering over the defense. He has a cannon arm, and he can run as well. 

Herbert’s stats were pretty solid throughout his four years at Oregon. His first two years, he threw for above 63% completion, just under 2000 yards each year, 19 TDs to 4 INT and 15 TD to 5 INT, respectively. His career high in yards per attempt came his sophomore year at 9.6. His junior year his completion percentage dipped below 60 but he threw for over 3000 yards and increased his TD total to 29 with just 8 interceptions. His senior year he improved although not by a ton: His comp% jumped up to 66.8, and he threw for a career high 32 TD and 3471 yards to just 6 INT.

Herbert’s senior year can be looked at a few different ways. Most seem to view it as a successful finale to his college football career: The Ducks went 12-2, won the Pac-12, and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Herbert ran for 3 TDs in the Rose Bowl, the last of which gave the Ducks the go ahead score.

But I view it a little differently. To me, Herbert, despite his talent, still tended to show troubling bouts of inconsistency. These came up in the team’s two losses against Auburn and Arizona State. The Auburn game saw Oregon go up 21-6 before ultimately losing 27-21. The Arizona State game saw Oregon go down 24-7 before rallying in the fourth quarter, only to come up short 31-28. A similar thing happened the previous year, where Oregon went up 24-7 to Stanford before losing 38-31. The Arizona State loss this year essentially kept Oregon out of the playoff. It’s not clear that they definitely would have gotten in with the win, but they certainly would have had an argument. I can’t say that all these losses were entirely on Herbert, but too often the pattern was the same: Oregon was losing games that they simply shouldn’t have been losing because their offense would go to sleep for stretches. Yes, they won a lot of games otherwise, but it’s not like they had a ton of great competition in the Pac-12.

The same could be said for this past year’s Rose Bowl. I watched the whole game, and I was not impressed at all with Herbert. Despite the win, Herbert threw for just 138 yards and a pick through the air against the best defense he had to face all year.

Herbert played, at least during his last few years, mainly out of the pistol. It was a pretty simple offense that didn’t ask Herbert to do too much in the way of reads and NFL style dropbacks. He also heavily padded his completion percentage with bubble screens. To me, Herbert looks awkward in the pocket, especially when it comes to his feet. I could definitely see him struggling in crowded NFL pockets. Herbert also struggled at time with anticipation and reads. He was often a beat late with throws or would miss them altogether. Let’s not forget that Herbert played all four years at Oregon. We have a pretty good body of work to judge him off of. 

Herbert definitely has NFL traits, but I personally think he needs work. I think he’s similar to Josh Allen. Like Josh, Herbert could be successful on a good team that has a good run game and defense, which allows him to make splash plays. But if you draft Herbert on a rebuilding team where you’re going to be asking him to throw 40+ times, I think he could look like Blake Bortles. And I think any team that would take him over Tua is insane (there are whispers the Dolphins might do so, which I think would be a huge mistake).

Nonetheless, Herbert will likely go in the first round, because you know coaches are going to fall in love with his arm, size, and crisp over-the-top delivery. Coaches tend to take chances on the guys with special physical traits because they believe they can coach everything else. Whether that will be true with Herbert, I think, is an open question at this point.


Jordan Love


Jordan Love is an interesting case. I haven’t seen much of him, in large part due to the fact that for most of the last few years I hadn’t heard of him. Love played for Utah State, which is not a power five school, and as such was generally overlooked by the College Football fandom. But ever since draft season, he seems to be rising up draft boards, indicating that the NFL may know something about this kid that we don’t.

Love had a pretty good 2018 season for the Aggies, throwing for 32 TDs to just 6 INT. Unfortunately, those numbers declined big time last year, where he threw for 20 TD to 17 INT, which is not a good ratio. Part of this can be attributed to personnel and coaching turnover. But NFL teams will have to look closely at his interceptions and decide if they are going to be getting the version of Jordan Love from two years ago or the one from last year.

Love is being looked at as a guy with lots of untapped potential. He has a ton of arm and can run too. The ball comes out of his hands very naturally and he can make any throw in the book. Like I said, I haven’t seen a ton of him, and I didn’t love what I had seen (although the more I’ve watched the more I’ve started to see some potential). His mechanics and balance could use some work, as he doesn’t always seem to throw with a firm foundation, or with all his body parts moving together as they need to be. 

In many ways Love seems like your prototypical big arm but project guy, similar to Herbert. However, Greg Cosell of NFL Films said that Love actually has more ball-distributor traits than Herbert, which was interesting to me. He ran a spread hurry up offense, and you do see that at times while watching his tape.

At the end of the day, someone’s going to take a chance on love. Could he be a hidden Patrick Mahomes? It will certainly be interesting to see. He seems like the kind of guy that’s going to be boom or a bust.



That’s all for now. I’ll do my best to get the next few tiers up within the next few days.  Hopefully this was helpful. Again, these are not necessarily my favorite players, just the ones that I think are most likely to be drafted first. The draft is in just a few hours, so with all the hype and buildup, I can’t wait to finally see what ends up happening!

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Rewatching the Georgia Alabama 2017 National Championship Game, aka, the “Tua” Game

Before I started watching NFL draft prospects over the past week or so, we were in that dry period of the offseason where there’s not much going on. So over the last few weeks, I’d been rewatching certain College Football games. I mostly was rewatching LSU from last year, just because Joe Burrow and that offense were really fun to watch. But one of the games I also decided to watch was the Georgia Alabama National Championship Game from 2017, the first season I started watching College Football. It was only three years ago, but a lot has changed since then. This was the game where Tua Tagavailoa burst onto the scene, replacing Jalen Hurts at halftime to bring the Tide back to a spectacular 26-23 overtime victory. Up until that point, Tua had been a relatively unknown backup. A lot happened in the College Football world since then. Rewatching the game, both knowing the result of that game already but also knowing everything that’s happened since then, was an interesting exercise, and I left with a few interesting takeaways that I thought I’d share.

The Matchup: Georgia vs Alabama


As I mentioned earlier, three years is an eternity when it comes to College Football. Barring exceptions, NCAA Division I Athletes typically only have four years to play football in a five year span. They are allowed to forego their senior year to declare for the NFL draft after their junior (third) year. So lots of players won’t play all four years, and if they do, rarely is it all at one school. Because of all this, it’s a sport with yearly turnaround, where people are always looking ahead to the next batch of recruits, the next biggest thing. And you see that with this game: Georgia Quarterback Jake Fromm and Alabama Quarterback Tua Tagavailoa were both true freshman in this game, just stepping onto the scene. Now, they’re both preparing for the NFL draft in a few weeks. So is Jalen Hurts, who started the 2017 season for Bama as a true sophomore before being benched at halftime of the natty for Tua. Many of the players on those Georgia and Alabama teams also went forward to be NFL stars in the past few years.

So what led to this matchup during the 2017 season? It wasn’t by any means a shocking matchup, as these were two very good teams, but it certainly wasn’t the matchup that everyone was expecting throughout the season. In fact, Bama almost didn’t make the playoff in the first place. Despite a dominant start to the season, Bama entered the playoff as the fourth and final seed, and they didn’t do so without controversy. Many people believed that Ohio State was more worthy of the final playoff spot than Bama, as Bama stayed home during Championship Weekend after a late season loss to Auburn, while Ohio State was crowned the Big 10 Champion with a win over Wisconsin. During that Championship Weekend, Auburn seemed to me to be the clear SEC favorite for the contest, as they had already defeated heavyweights Alabama and Georgia during the regular season, the only defeat of the season for both of those programs. The Georgia defeat was a resounding 40-10 win by Auburn, which is why it was surprising when Georgia beat Auburn 28-7 in the SEC Championship rematch. That Georgia team was also a bit of a surprise, as true freshman QB Jake Fromm took over early on for the injured sophomore Jacob Eason (a 5 star recruit), and went on to have a fantastic season for Georgia. Georgia’s first playoff contest was a fantastic Rose Bowl shootout with Baker Mayfield and the Sooners. Although Mayfield, the eventual Heisman Winner, was all the rage that season with a seemingly unstoppable offense, it was Georgia that came out on top of the shootout in a double overtime victory. As for Bama, after the committee gave them the okay over Ohio State for the fourth playoff spot, they made easy work of No 1 ranked Clemson 24-6. The final matchup was set: Georgia vs Bama. Neither of them were flashy teams, as both relied on a run game, game-manager style QB, and good defense to win. Because of that matchup and those teams’ style of play, the Championship ended up being a bit lower scoring than we would see in the next few seasons. Nonetheless, it was a great, close game that came down to the wire and had a fabulous finish.

Georgia Was Loaded


Although Georgia made it to the SEC Championship in 2018 and 2019, 2017 was their only playoff appearance of the last three years. They had a lot of talent, but most impressive to me was the two headed running back combo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, which powered Georgia throughout that playoff run. Both of them would go on to be stars in the NFL. Nick Chubb is currently the foundation back for the Cleveland Browns, and although that offense struggled last year, he runs hard and certainly looks the part. Sony Michel didn’t have the best 2019, but his 2018 season saw the Patriots employ a run first attack with Michel as the lead dog–especially during the playoffs–that ultimately led the Pats to their sixth Super Bowl ring, which might have been their most surprising yet.

Georgia also had playmaker WR Mecole Hardman at the helm on offense and returning kicks. Hardman played for Georgia during 2018 as well, and in 2019, he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and would go on to help Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes win their first Super Bowl ring each.

And lastly, there was dominant middle linebacker Roquan Smith, who was eventually drafted high by the Chicago Bears and helped solidify their defense along with Khalil Mack. It was a Georgia team with a lot of big time players, and it’s always fun to look back and see successful NFL guys back in their college days. You never know where those guys are going to end up or what they’re going to do when you’re watching them while they’re still in college.

Nick Saban’s Decision to Put Tua in at the half was a Ballsy Move


Halftime of the National Championship saw Bama face a 13-0 deficit with very little offensive production to speak of. That’s when Nick Saban made a move that ultimately won him a championship but at the time seemed crazy: He pulled his starting QB in favor of a true freshman that had never started a game before. Jalen Hurts, the incumbent starter, was 20-2 as a starter. His only losses were that year’s game at Auburn, and the previous year’s National Championship. During the 2016 Championship, Hurts gave his team a late lead, only for Deshaun Watson to pull Clemson ahead with zeros on the clock.

Hurts was well respected in the Bama locker room, among fans, and in the media. Furthermore, he didn’t even have that bad of a half. The offense as a whole struggled, especially up front, and Hurts’s rushing yards gave them some of their only offense of the half. It was a brutal benching for Jalen. Nonetheless, Tua was the better passer, and Saban said he felt Bama needed to pass the ball to win. 

Bama would come back and just squeeze out the win, despite Georgia seemingly in control time and time again. Tua ended up being the playmaker, bringing Bama back in the game, throwing a miraculous game tying TD pass on 4th down late in the fourth quarter, and throwing maybe an even more miraculous TD pass in overtime to seal it. Kirk Herbstreit said that Tua’s presence gave Bama a spark. The “spark” theory is that a QB change can impact and motivate the rest of the team to play better when they’re in a slump, even if the incumbent QB isn’t all to blame. In this case, that ended up being true. 

If Georgia won, we’d probably be looking at Saban’s decision to bench Jalen for Tua very differently. But you have to take the big risks in big games when the time calls for it in order to come out on top. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Sean Payton’s decision to start the second half of Super Bowl 44 with an onside kick. An insane decision, but one that ultimately paid off. As NFL Coach Bruce Arians (whose book I’m currently reading) always says, “No risk it, no biscuit.”

This Game Was a Grind


Ultimately, this was the biggest takeaway to me. Because of Tua’s late game heroics, and because of what he’s done since this game, I remembered this game as being a phenomenal performance by him. And it was, but it wasn’t like the next few years, where Bama would put up an automatic 40 points and 300 yards every time you played them. This game was not an aerial circus. The comeback was fueled by Bama running the ball well, some good run after the catch by Bama receivers (Tua had a lot of WR screens and passes thrown to the flat), good defense, and Tua keeping the chains moving. But for much of the second half, it was a defensive battle, and it could have gone either way. It was a good game and a good performance by Tua, but it wasn’t aerial fireworks.. at least not until the end.

Georgia Got Conservative Late


Georgia started this game with a 13-0 lead at halftime. It was a surprising performance from the newbie coach (Kirby Smart) against the savvy veteran coach and team in Bama and Nick Saban. Kirby is Nick Saban’s protege, and he, like Saban, believes in winning with the run game and defense. But he also knew that that would be a struggle against an Alabama defense. So Georgia started the game with more of a spread passing attack, with Jake Fromm attacking Bama through the air on early downs with quick passes and tempo on offense. And it caught Bama off guard. Fromm was sharp, and Georgia was moving the ball efficiently and scoring.

At the half, Tua was able to give Bama some offense and brought them back into the game with a phenomenal drive, cutting the deficit to 13-7. Georgia would eventually answer. On 3rd down and long, Georgia was backed up on their own side of the field. Bama decided to come with the blitz, and Georgia made them pay. For one of the few times that game, Georgia went deep and was able to get behind the defense. Jake Fromm hit Mecole Hardman in stride, and he took it to the house, 20-7.

Georgia didn’t score again until overtime. Bama crawled their way back into the game, hitting on a field goal and another field goal to eventually make it a one score game, before Tua brought them down the field late. But Georgia didn’t score on something like their final 4 drives. The offense had stalled from their hot start early on.

This is where it gets complicated. Throughout the season, Georgia had never been a team to throw the ball a ton and win shootouts. With the lead, they were playing the game on their terms. They simply wanted to run the ball and end the game, and they weren’t able to do so. If they had passed the ball more and failed, they likely would have gotten more criticism. It’s always less controversial to fail in conventional ways than take chances. Look at all the criticism Kyle Shanahan has gotten in recent Super Bowls from choosing to pass the ball at times late in those games.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that Georgia really had Bama’s number early in the game. Jake Fromm was sharp, the offense was moving, and Bama was on their heels trying to defend the tempo and short passes on early downs. It seems to me that by slowing things down and getting more conservative late, Georgia played into the hands of the Bama defense. It allowed Bama’s defense to dominate up front, which is where they had the advantage. Again, this conversation may be different if Tua doesn’t make a few miracle plays late. Maybe Georgia didn’t trust Fromm as much after the interception, I don’t know. But seeing as how things did play out, Georgia’s conservative play-calling certainly seemed to keep Bama in the game. And you can’t do that against a championship caliber team like Bama; you have to go hard for 60 minutes.

Bama Was in Position to Win Twice


This was actually one thing I did remember from watching the first time around. We know that Bama pulled off the miraculous overtime victory, but what people may not remember is they also had a chance to win in regulation. Tua and Najee Harris took Bama down the field late, and Bama’s kicker Andy Pappanostous missed the field goal badly wide left. As anyone who’s familiar with College Football knows, Bama is no stranger to missed field goals.

Bama Almost Blew It


What most people remember is Tua’s 41 yard touchdown pass in overtime to win the game. It was a dart down the sideline to Devonta Smith for the walkoff touchdown. But on the play before that, Tua took an awful sack. He tried to escape the rush instead of throwing the ball away, and he lost a whopping 16 yards on the play. That Bama was able to come back and throw the game winner right after that is what made that moment all the more incredible.

Georgia Blew It On Defense


The game winning touchdown was mostly looked at as an incredibly play by Tua and the Bama offense, and rightfully so. A 41 yard walkoff touchdown down the sideline with two true freshmen is definitely the stuff of legends. Having said that, it’s not entirely clear what Georgia was thinking on the play.

As always, you have to start with the situation. It’s overtime. Alabama is backed up at their own 41 after a big sack taken by Tua. It’s 2nd and 26, and Bama had the ball second in OT after Georgia kicked a field goal. That means that on this possession, Bama had three options. They could win with a touchdown, tie with a field goal, or lose with a turnover. Georgia’s number 1 priority was keeping Bama out of the endzone.

I don’t know exactly what defense Georgia was playing, but it looked like some sort of cover 2. They had two safeties deep, and a couple of linebackers playing short zone. Kirk Herbstreit, when analyzing the play, focused on what a great job Tua did looking off the safety so as to give himself a window to hit Devonta Smith down the field. And that’s true; Tua did bring the safety out of position on the play with his eyes. But more alarming to me is how Georgia let Devonta Smith run by the defense. Smith starts to the outside ever so slightly, then slips back inside the cornerback, and by then the corner is toast. Smith is running full speed at the corner, and he beats him by quite a few yards. The corner doesn’t jam Smith, but he also starts the play backpedaling, ensuring that he has no chance at covering a streaking Smith down the sideline. 

Maybe the corner was expecting more help from the safety. But if you’re Georgia, why are you playing this defense when you have Bama backed up in OT? Your only job is to not get beat deep. On 2nd and 26, even if Bama gets half the first down yardage, Georgia is still in good position to make a hold. That means you play super soft and make Bama throw underneath. Instead, Georgia accomplishes close to nothing with their underneath defenders, and forces their lone two deep defenders to accomplish the impossible task of covering the width of the field. If you don’t want to play soft, you blitz and get there. Or if you want to play cover 2, you have your corners jam the receiver to buy your pass rushers some time. But a passive cover 2, without top level NFL corners, will give you the deep sideline throw 99% of the time. That’s especially true in college, where the hash marks are wider and the safeties have more ground to cover.

The only explanation here is that Georgia knew Bama didn’t trust their kicker, and they didn’t want to let Bama throw intermediate to let him back in field goal range. Or, they simply didn’t trust the freshman QB to throw deep (or anticipate that he would). Whatever the explanation, it certainly looks like a coverage bust in retrospect, and one that cost Georgia the game at that.

Rodrigo Blankenship Was Clutch… But Hasn’t Always Been Since Then


Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia’s superstar kicker, nicknamed “Hotrod” and famous for his black-rimmed eyeglasses, burst onto the scene for Georgia that 2017 season. A former walk-on, Blankenship won the kicking job in 2016, and Kirby Smart put him on scholarship in 2017–a fact that Blankenship announced to a jubilant team in the locker room after booting the go ahead field goal during that season’s win at Notre Dame. Since then, Blankenship has been a favorite both among fans and among the team. 

Blankenship only continued to cement his legacy during the 2017 Rose Bowl, Georgia’s win against Oklahoma. It was the semifinal matchup of the playoff contest, and Blankenship nailed a Rose Bowl record 55 yard field goal before the half. He was just as spectacular in the championship game against Bama, going 3/3 on field goals of 41, 27, and 51 yards. The 51 yarder was in overtime.

Blankenship peaked statistically in 2017, but he remained productive throughout his UGA tenure. He won the Lou Groza award after his senior (2019) season, and is set to be the top kicker in the upcoming draft. But I couldn’t help but notice that in the few years after, he had a few crucial misses in big games.

During Georgia’s 35-28 SEC Championship loss to Alabama in 2018, Blankenship missed his only field goal attempt of the day, a relatively short 30 yarder in the third quarter. Georgia was leading 28-14 at the time, and the kick would have stretched their lead to three scores. Fast forward to this past season, and Blankenship again struggled in the SEC Championship, this time to LSU. During the 37-10 loss, he went 1/3 on field goals, missing a 52 yarder down 7-0 in the first quarter, and a 37 yarder down 20-3 in the third. That’s two straight years of SEC Championships where the normally reliable kicker had uncharacteristic misses. The worst of last year was Georgia’s home loss to an eventual 4 win South Carolina team. Jake Fromm had a terrible day throwing the football, throwing three interceptions, one of which went the other way for six. Blankenship had a chance to tie up the game in OT, but pulled the 42 yarder left, ending the game. It was a bad kick, one that a kicker the caliber of Blankenship has to make.

Of course, this is all too small a sample size to draw any definitive conclusions from, and Blankenship is still a terrific kicking prospect. But I felt it worth noting.

Jake Fromm and Georgia Never Got Back


Georgia’s been a fun team to root for in recent years. As I mentioned, their head coach Kirby Smart was a former Nick Saban (Bama) disciple, and both in the 2017 championship game and in the SEC since, they’ve been easy to look upon as the “good guy” young resistance to Saban’s reigning empire. Jake Fromm, their quarterback, has also been a very likable guy and someone easy to root for after he took over the starting job in 2017. And Smart, by most measures, has done a fantastic job with this Georgia program since taking over. But he, and they, haven’t been able to get over the Bama hump and become the new leaders of the SEC. And 2017 was the closest they got. 

That Championship loss was a heartbreaker. They gave up leads of 13-0, 20-7, and watched a true freshman QB who had never played a meaningful college snap toss the game winner in overtime. What makes it even more painful is that the following year was arguably even more heartbreaking. Georgia was facing off against Bama again during the 2018 season, this time during the SEC Championship game. Again, Georgia had a big lead–this time 28-14–in the third quarter, only to watch it melt away once again. Bama came back to win 35-28, ending Georgia’s Championship hopes. In a strange bit of irony, Tua Tagavailoa was the starter in this game, but he left the game due to injury, and the now backup Jalen Hurts of all people, came back to win the game for Bama. It was the opposite of what happened the previous year, but the result was the same. Georgia had Bama right where they wanted, but they weren’t able to finish.

Fast forward to 2019, and LSU, not Bama, was now the class of the SEC. They played Georgia in the SEC Championship and dominated them 37-10. Georgia’s defense actually played LSU decently, but the Georgia offense was out of sync from the start, as had been the case for most of the season. 

It must be painful for Georgia fans to look back over the past three years knowing just how close they were. For as good as Jake Fromm was for this program, and as good as he played at times against Bama, he wasn’t able to bring Georgia a championship.

But Neither Did Bama


This is actually arguably the more interesting storyline to come out of this game. This win seemed to mark the turning of the tide (no pun intended) for Bama. For years, Bama had been the best team in college football under head coach Nick Saban. This championship win would give the program 5 national championships in just 9 years under Saban, a remarkable number. But they never won with elite, high volume passing offenses. They won by playing good defense, running the ball, and having game managers at QB. Now with Tua at the quarterback position, the possibilities for Bama were endless. I remember Kirk Herbstreit talking about it on his ESPN podcast after the game. He said that for most of 2017, Bama had to grind out wins, often just sneaking by in the 4th quarter. And he was right. 2017, despite the eventual championship, was not a great Bama team. Remember that they made the playoffs as the 4 seed and were almost left out entirely. But now with Tua throwing the football, defenses were going to have it rough the next few years. 

On some level, this was correct. Tua would go on to have two of the best passing seasons not just in Bama history, but in college football history. The Bama offense was stacked, and Tua was unstoppable. If he hadn’t gotten injured late in 2019 and Joe Burrow hadn’t emerged out of nowhere, Tua would likely be a consensus No 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. Which makes it all the more crazy that Bama didn’t win another Championship with Tua after his 2017 breakout win.

By normal college football standards, Bama has been a top tier program the past two years. They’ve only lost three games total, and one of those was a championship game. But Bama, much like the New England Patriots, plays solely to win Championships. Anything short is a failure. Nick Saban would be the first one to tell you that, and he said as much after this year’s Citrus Bowl win over Michigan.

Bama may have had a historic passing offense under Tua, but with that, the defense has not played up to its usual standard. Bama has historically been known for having the best defense in college football. Here is how they fared in their three crucial losses over the past two years:

First, the 2018 National Championship game, the subsequent year Tua’s 2017 breakout win: Bama got routed by Clemson, losing 44-16. It was the worst loss of Nick Saban’s career. This past year, Bama’s first loss of the season was the game of the year, where they hosted the surging LSU Tigers. Bama lost 46-41. Defending Joe Burrow sure isn’t easy, but this wasn’t the type of performance you’d expect from Bama. After that loss, Bama could not afford another loss and still make the playoff due to their weak strength of schedule. Their final regular season game saw them go into Auburn and lose 48-45. Although you could point to Bama’s missed field goal towards the end, as well as Guz Malzahn’s trick play to run out the clock late as culprits for the loss, Bama has no business giving up 48 points to an average true freshman QB–no matter how weird things have gotten for them at Jordan Hare over the years.

Ultimately, Bama will have netted zero championships from their two greatest offenses in their history. That’s a problem, and it makes you wonder if Nick Saban’s era of dominance in college football is over. Things may be shifting toward Clemson (and maybe LSU) as the new SEC powerhouses.

It’s a reminder that great offense isn’t worth much if you can’t complement it with great defense. Bama isn’t likely to go back to playing conservative on offense with game managers at QB. They continued running their offense as usual with Mac Jones last season after Tua was hurt, and they have five star Bryce Young set to takeover at QB next year, an incredibly highly recruited player who should be a monster. They also have Tua’s younger brother on the roster, who is also a QB.

At the end of the day, Bama fans likely can’t look at Tua’s two full years starting at Bama without seeing them as missed opportunities. If Bama wants to get back to playing to their standard of football, they’re going to have to show up on defense in the big games.


What was once seemingly the beginning of the road for two great programs is now the end. Jake Fromm and Tua move onto the NFL Draft, and it begins a new era for Georgia and Bama. As for the games we watched last year during college football, as well as the ones we’ll see this upcoming year, it’s interesting to wonder how we’ll look back at those games years from now, whether or not our expectations will have matched up with reality, and what unexpected twists and turns will have occurred along the way.

The Tragedy of Andrew Luck

The Football world is in shock right now. Just this past Saturday, August 24, 2019, shortly after the Colts’ 3rd preseason game and just before starting his 8th year in the NFL (including the 2017 season, which he did not play due to injury, as well as his injury shortened 2015 season), Andrew Luck announced his retirement from Football.

“For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it […] I’ve been stuck in this process. I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” said Luck at his retirement press conference. “Taken the joy out of the game, and after 2016, when I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice, I made a vow to myself that I would not go down that path again. I find myself in a similar situation and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle that I’ve been in.” Luck is just 29 years old.

For those outside of Football, it may be hard to understand why this is such a big deal. But make no mistake, this news is about as shocking as it comes. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated called it, “One of the biggest, most shocking breaking news items of all-time”, and I don’t disagree. When I first saw the news, I was at a bar with my friends, waiting for a dinner reservation. I was seated in good viewing distance of a TV, as the Miami-Florida College Football Kickoff game was on. I was glancing at the TV intermittently, but not really following it. Then I saw the breaking news bar at the bottom of the screen flash red: “Andrew Luck Retires from Football”, it said. I immediately yelled in surprise, and rushed to my phone to confirm the news. Not many news outlets had picked up on it yet (the news would quickly rush across the sports world in the next few hours and over the next day, prompting all sorts of reactions), but there it was on Adam Schefter’s twitter feed: “Filed to ESPN: Andrew Luck has informed the Colts he is retiring from the NFL, per source. There will be a press conference Sunday to make it official, but Luck is mentally worn down, and now checking out.” Then, the following three tweets:

“Andrew Luck already has met with Colts’ owner Jim Irsay to tell him that he is retiring, per source.”

“Jacoby Brissett is Indianapolis’ new starting Quarterback.” (Brissett has been the Colts backup for the last few years; they traded for him after the Patriots drafted him in 2016, during which he played a game and a half for the Pats during Tom Brady’s 4 game deflate-gate suspension. Brissett filled in admirably for Luck in 2017 when Luck was injured, but the Colts still only won 4 games.)

And finally: “Andrew Luck is 29 years old. And ready to move on from the NFL.”

Those tweets, and that breaking news scoop, will go down in NFL history. Luck was planning to announce his retirement Sunday, but with the news out, he had no choice but to do it after the preseason game, of which the news broke in the middle. Surely learning of this news in the middle of the game, the Colts fans would boo Luck off the field as the Colts exited, seemingly reaffirming that Luck had made the right decision.

(Side note, how does Schefter get these scoops so quickly? I seriously wonder how insane his network must be. He’s so tapped in, it’s crazy. ((For those who don’t know, Adam Schefter works for ESPN, and is the league’s best insider, always breaking up to the minute scoops from inside sources. Had the news come from anyone else, it would have been justifiable to doubt, but from Schefter, it’s bound to be true.)))

So anyway, there I was, with my friends at the bar, just learning of this bombshell. One of them is a casual NFL fan, the other not really into Football, as far as I could tell. They humored me for the sake of conversation, but quickly moved on. I would go on to have a fun night with them, but I still could not get the Luck news out of my head for some time. This was insane!!

To be honest, it shouldn’t have been that shocking to especially to me, out of all people. That’s because I remembered when Luck missed the 2017 season, and the events leading up to it. It was not expected, but as the offseason went on and on, you saw more and more news that the injury (unforeseen the previous year) wasn’t progressing, and that Luck wasn’t practicing, until BAM – Luck would miss the season. So he had an injury history, and anyone who’s watched the Colts in Luck’s tenure know he has taken an absolute beating in his first few years, carrying the Colts in a downfield, pass heavy offense behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. It was fair to wonder if that had a permanent effect on him when it came to his body.

And leading up to this season, we started to see the same whispers. First, no one suspected anything. Luck was back after a high level season, and the Colts were set to be the cream of the crop in the AFC. But then came the whispers, even fewer this time, but still there. Luck’s injuries re-emerge. Luck not practicing. It felt like a familiar story. And it slowly but steadily grew the closer we got to the season, even if ever so quietly.

At that point, I considered writing an article (I have lots of article ideas in my head on the regular, but I rarely end up writing them…) saying that if Luck had to miss the 2019 season due to injury, he should consider retirement, for the sake of his body. So I literally, in a way, predicted this! It should not have been at all surprising to me. Yet, it still was. In no world did I expect this to happen even before the season started, and to see it there, was just surreal.

So Luck is done. But why was this such a big deal? Players retire all the time, especially from injury, when it comes to one of the most dangerous sports out there. To answer that, let’s take a look back at Luck’s career, that of a Quarterback who was always special and always overachieved, but whose career has now been cut much shorter than it ever should have been:

Not-So-Humble Beginnings: The Franchise Savior

Luck was drafted with the No 1 overall pick in 2012 by the Indianapolis Colts out of Stanford. He carried with him an enormous amount of hype, perhaps as much since the Quarterback he replaced, another No 1 overall pick: Peyton Manning, drafted in 1998 by the Colts out of Tennessee.

Let’s talk about that Manning fellow: He carries with him as big a legacy as just about anyone who played in this game. He brought the Colts to over a decade of relevance, put up league leading numbers year in and year out, changed the way the Quarterback position is played and prepared for, and is one of the best, if not the best, Quarterback to ever play the game. He was also, for years, more or less the face of the league. Peyton Manning didn’t just play for the Colts; Peyton Manning WAS the Colts.

But after the 2010 season, Manning faced a serious neck injury, and his football future came into doubt. He could barely throw a Football, and many believed he would never play again. (He went on to set all time records with the Denver Broncos and win another Super Bowl, but that’s another story, and just another testament to his greatness…) So in a move somewhat similar in its shockingness to what we’re facing with Luck today, the Colts made the difficult decision to release Peyton Manning. With his Football future in doubt and a sagging roster, they felt it was time to move on to the next era of Colts Football. This happened after Manning missed the entire 2011 season, and the Colts, utterly unprepared for his absence, won just two games. That’s one of the reasons they decided to move on from Manning; they had acquired, via their sheer awfulness, the No 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft–prime position to snag that Luck kid out of Stanford. Manning would forever be a legend in Indianapolis, but this was an opportunity too great to ignore. This was an opportunity to pass the torch from one franchise QB to another, something you rarely see in Football. That’s what every franchise dreams of. This wasn’t about the last decade, it was about the next one, about the future.

Luck’s Rookie Year: Far Beyond What Anyone Could Have Expected

I didn’t follow College Football or College QBs back in 2012 like I’m starting to do now, so I didn’t have a great read on Luck coming out of College. Nonetheless, my general memory is that he was a really good and smart high level game manager for Stanford. He played for Jim Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton, an offense heavily focused on West Coast, short style passing, with a focus on the tight ends. Luck led a lot of comebacks and was responsible for a lot of wins. But it was a controlled and methodical passing game.

Luck always had a great head on his shoulders, and there was never any doubt that he could handle the pressure of the NFL that came with being the first overall pick. He was a valedictorian at Stanford, and he was about as intelligent, polite, and as good a guy as there could be.

Nonetheless, the Colts team that he took over for was an absolute wreck. As I said, they only won two games the prior year. They were in complete and total rebuilding mode. As good a prospect as many saw Luck, NO ONE thought they would compete his first year. 4-6 wins at best were what was expected. Luck took that expectation and blew the door down.

To this day, Luck’s rookie season in 2012 is one of the best and most impressive rookie seasons I have ever seen. I can’t think of any QB that would have been successful on that Colts team. And yet, he singlehandedly took them to the playoffs, a place they had no business being. The smart, methodical, caretaker that Luck was in College? Thrown out the window. In his place, become a gunslinger. With new Head Coach Chuck Pagano facing treatment for cancer and unable to coach, Bruce Arians became the interim head coach. And for anyone who knows Bruce Arians, you know what that means, and you know what kind of offense he likes to run: Spread the field, empty backfield, 5-7 step drop downfield route combinations. When it’s humming, it’s hella fun to watch, but it’s not at all QB friendly, and not just any QB can run it. That year, Luck in that offense was asked to do things that many veteran QBs aren’t asked to do, and that many veteran QBs can’t do. Not only did he do those things, he did them to perfection. The offense was a lot of 5 wide receivers, a lot of downfield shots, a lot of standing in the pocket, and a lot of full field route progressions. For a rookie QB, that’s insane. But the throws he made, were some of the best throws I’ve seen, and he made them regularly, and on a week to week basis. Not only that, but he made them at the most important of times

Luck singlehandedly took that Colts team to the playoffs. Running game wasn’t there. Offensive Line was not good. Defense wasn’t good. Receivers were TY Hilton (before he was a star), an aging Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery, and LaVon Brazill. He had 7 4th quarter comebacks that season. Here are some highlights:

This was Luck’s second career start. He had 30 seconds to get them in field goal range. He did.

(That’s Luck shrugging off Clay Matthews by the way. On 3rd and 15. Against the Packers. with less than 2 minutes to go.)

Look at the score by the way. The Colts would win that game.

Same game. Needs a touchdown with under a minute and no timeouts. He would get it.

BEAUTY. (On 3rd and 23.)

I’m sure there are many more, but those are the plays I specifically remember from that year.

The Colts overachieved so much that year. All but two of their wins were by one score. But three of their five losses were by three or more scores. (One of their losses, the 17-22 loss to the Jaguars, by the way, was a game where Luck led a late score in the 4th Quarter, only to then lose the lead again with little time left. That happened in Week 3 of Luck’s career. It never happened to Tom Brady until the Super Bowl in his eighth season. (And that was on the Tyree drive.))

This Colts team that was supposed to win 4-6 games went 11-5 and went to the playoffs. They lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens 24-9 in the first round of the playoffs. Luck didn’t play poorly, but he didn’t play great either. They were simply outmatched as a team; it really wasn’t a surprise.

Already, Luck was a star. He got some hype that year, but it was mostly overshadowed by the other two successful rookie QBs that came from that class: Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson.

RG3 won rookie of the year, and most people probably considered him the best rookie QB of that season. He wasn’t. If most people had to rank the 3 rookie QBs that year, they probably would have ranked them 1) RG3 2) Russell Wilson 3) Andrew Luck. They had it backwards. Some people acknowledged Luck, but others just thought he was too interception prone.

The truth was that Luck was far and away the best of the three. It was clear in terms of the throws he was making and the impact he was having on his team. He was thriving on an incredibly high difficulty level. Wilson had a good second half of the year, but was carried by the run game and defense for a lot of it. And RG3 was playing in an incredibly simplified offense–more or less the Baylor offense. It wasn’t sustainable, and that’s why, like Kaepernick, he regressed each of his next few years, before losing his starting role.

And yes, Luck did throw 18 interceptions his rookie year. That’s what happens when you’re playing in the type of aggressive, downfield offense he is, and when the team’s success rests solely on your right ram. Not to mention that about half of his interceptions came when he was down multiple scores late in the game. Of course, people don’t look at this stuff, nor do they care to.

At the end of the day, it can’t be overstated. Luck’s rookie season was phenomenal.

2013-2014: More of the Same

Luck continued to be one of the top QBs in the league during the next few years, and he continued to improve his game each year. No, he wasn’t perfect all the time. His 2013 saw the occasional roadbumps, and Luck wasn’t always as phenomenal as he was under the Arians offense. They again lost 5 games, a few of them blowouts. But Luck showed up for the big time games, cashing in excellent performances in wins against San Francisco (27-7), Seattle (34-28), and Denver (39-33).

But the team holes were still there. Luck was still taking a lot of hits from poor OL play and a scheme that asked him to hold onto the ball for too long, and the defense’s weaknesses were no more evident than in the 38-8 loss to the Rams. (Or the 11-40 loss to the Cardinals. Or the 42-28 loss to the Bengals.)

But the Colts went to the playoffs, and Luck once again proved that he is a damn special player, capable of doing things others couldn’t dream of. In the Wild Card round, the Colts started the game especially poorly, as the Chiefs came out with a 38-10 lead. Luck went on to win the game 45-44, throwing for 443 yards and 4 TD. The 28 point comeback is the second largest in playoff history. He also threw 3 INT, but none of those came early in the game to put the Colts down. This became common in the Luck era Colts: During big time deficits, the Colts would dig themselves into a hole very quickly, and rarely did it have to do with Luck. This was rather unique to Luck. It happens to everyone occasionally, but it didn’t happen to anyone as commonly as Luck. Think about it: Do the Patriots ever fall into huge deficits early in the game when Brady is playing well? Almost never.

Despite Luck’s prowess, this team clearly wasn’t built to compete with the big boys, and it showed the following week. The Colts lost 43-22 to the Patriots. They gave up 166 yards on the ground and 4 TDs to LeGarrette Blount. Luck threw for 331 yards and 2 TDs, but also for 4 interceptions. But again, most of them came late in the game facing a big deficit. See the pattern? Interceptions thrown when you’re already down by a few scores simply aren’t the same as those that take your team out of the game, and Luck rarely threw the latter kind. That didn’t stop the criticism from coming.

Once again,  Luck had exceeded expectations and done spectacular things playing for an average at best Colts team. But you know how it goes: Great players get hyped a lot, and end up having to do more for lesser teams. Despite that, because of the hype, people expect too much of them, and hold them to unreasonable standards, not praising them for keeping the teams competitive, but instead faulting them for not being able to have better team outcomes. All that stuff Luck did, didn’t matter. He lost to the Patriots, and he throws a lot of interceptions. Where’s the Super Bowl? It’s over simplistic and and bad analysis, but it’s easy, and it’s how people view the games. For years, we saw the same thing with Peyton Manning. It didn’t matter that he took so many Colts teams to the playoffs that had no business being there. He took 8 years to win his first Super Bowl, and for many people, that was all that mattered. We saw the same narrative beginning to develop with Luck, except his teams were even worse than Peyton’s! Would the Colts ever get him an oline and a defense?

Luck’s next season in 2014 was definitely one of the more underrated seasons you’ll see from a Quarterback. He threw for over 4700 yards and 40 touchdowns. It was a great QB year overall for sure, with Aaron Rodgers winning his second MVP award, Tony Romo having a career year (he had a good case for MVP over Rodgers), and Brady ultimately going onto win his 4th Super Bowl. Nonetheless, Luck was a top QB that year. The Colts offense was clicking on all eight cylinders, and Luck continued to absolutely flush some throws. He really looked like he was coming into his own. For everything he had done up to that point, Luck had again taken it to a new level. And he was again making high level of difficulty, deep throws with precision. But were the Colts getting better around him? The offense had some more weapons, certainly. But the defense gave up 500 yards and 6 TD to Ben Roethlisberger in a loss, gave up 201 yards rushing to Jonas Gray on the ground in a 42-20 loss to the Patriots (Jonas Gray was never heard from again), and, in a perfect example of one of those “the game is over before Luck gets a chance to do antyhing” games, lost 42-7 to the Cowboys.

But Luck’s prowess mostly covered it up. And he also continued his trend of going further in the playoffs than the year before. The Colts had a comfortable Wild Card win against the Bengals, where Andrew Luck made one of the best throws you will ever see. The next week, he went to Denver and beat out the man he replaced, Peyton Manning. Luck was just a game away from the Super Bowl at this point, but he once again had to face the Patriots. But surely the Colts had learned how to play some run defense after getting gashed on the ground the last two games they played the Pats, right? Wrong. Blount rushed for 138 yards and 3 TDs, and the Colts got blown out, 45-7. But this time, Luck didn’t play quite as well, and that would a harbinger of issues to come.

2015-2017: Injuries and Attrition

2015 is when the issues began for Luck. The Colts began the season 0-2, with Luck throwing multiple interceptions in each game. The interception bug continued to bite for Luck as the season went on, and pundits were more than ready to dig Luck’s grave, something they had clearly been ready to do for years. Luck rallied the Colts to wins in weeks 3-5, and he still continued to be able to make impressive throws…  but something was off. They lost their next 3 from weeks 6-8. Week 6 was a Patriots loss, with more Pats success on the ground. But it also became famous for the Colts attempting one of the worst trick plays you’ll ever see, an attempted fake punt with the entire punt team shifting to the right of the field, leaving just the center, the football, and one player to take the snap on the left side of the field. There was literally no other protection other than the center. The Pats put two defenders over the center, he snapped it anyway for some reason, and the Colts WR was quickly tackled by the two Patriots. It became a nice microcosm for how bad this Colts coaching staff during the Luck era was.

The next two games, the Colts offense did nothing for most of the game, and then led almost-comebacks that were too little too late. It was revealed that Luck was battling an injury and he would be eventually shut down for the season, but even injury-addled Luck, in his worst season, still had some great performances left in him. We saw that in Week 9, Luck’s last game before being shut down. He led a 27-24 win against the then-undefeated Broncos (the best defense in the league that would go on to win the Super Bowl).

The aging veteran QB (almost 40 at the time) Matt Hasselbeck would take over for Luck (before getting hurt himself). He led the Colts to victories over the Falcons and Bucs in his first two weeks taking over for Luck. This led to some pundits to claim that Hasselbeck was a better fit for the Colts than Luck. That lasted until the next two weeks, when the Colts lost 45-10 to the Steelers and 51-16 to the Jaguars. That about shut down those takes.

Luck came back for 2016, and he had a really good year, continuing to play at a high level and make impressive  throws. But the Colts missed the playoffs at 8-8. 5 of the losses were one score games. It was a nice bounceback year for Luck, but with a bad season followed by no playoffs, no one really cared. They were ready to write Luck off.

Yet, it was clear to anyone that had been following Luck’s career that Luck was not to blame for the Colts struggles. Year in and year out he was asked to throw down the field behind a poor oline with bad coaching and no defense. People wondered if those constant hits he took behind that line would catch up to him, and it turns out they did.

During 2017, Andrew Luck sat out the entire year to rehab an injury. Despite Jacoby Brissett filling in admirably, the Colts went 4-12.

This was Luck’s sixth year in the league, but it felt like a lot of it had been wasted. With the severity of his injuries, people started to wonder if this was it for Luck.

2018: Seemingly New Beginnings

Finally, the Colts started to recognize their mistakes, and do what they should have been doing his whole career: Putting a competent team and coaching staff behind Luck that he could thrive under. And to our surprise, it actually worked! The Colts cleaned shop of the Irsay and Pagano era, and hired Frank Reich as their new Head Coach, Chris Ballard as their General Manager, and Matt Eberflus as their defensive coordinator. Of course, these three couldn’t rehaul the roster overnight, but they worked the draft well, and made best with what they had, covering up personnel weaknesses with scheme. Luck maintained the ability to throw absurd downfield passes when needed, but under the new scheme, he embraced more of a quick passing game, increasing his efficiency and protecting his body from unnecessary hits. The result was a career high in completion percentage. The oline and defense both improved. Though Luck had been in the league for seven years, this felt like a new beginning. The organization was finally on the right track, and could finally give us the Luck we had all been hoping for: One that could compete with the AFC heavyweights without being dragged down by his team. Luck was a top QB in the league last year. He won comeback player of the year, and added another playoff win to his resume before falling to the Chiefs on the road. But the future truly looked bright.

2019: The End

That’s what makes this all so shocking. Luck was one of the best in the league last year. This team owned their division, and looked to be a Super Bowl contender. Luck claimed in his retirement press conference that the injuries took away his ability to enjoy the game. With that, you will surely have pundits engaging in revisionist history, asking if Luck ever really was a Football guy at heart. But I can assure you, that’s BS. He was always all-in with the game and with his teammates.

Luck’s retirement announcement came late, just before the season, angering many outsiders (because, you know, athletes are slaves for our entertainment,  it’s not like they have their own life to worry about..). But from what I can gather, the process was similar to what happened before the 2017 season that Luck ultimately missed. He was on track to play, then he started to face an injury that, as time went on, proved to be more and more severe, until it was ultimately apparent that this would be a much bigger deal than anyone suspected.

The Tragedy of Andrew Luck

Let me start by saying this: Luck did the right thing in retiring. He said that he promised himself  he would never go through what he did in 2017 while rehabbing, and he had to be true to himself. He said that because of the injury, he didn’t love the game as much as he used to. And when that happens, you have to get out. The game is simply too brutal to play if you’re not all in. Luck knows there’s more to life than Football, and he wants to experience those things before it’s too late, like it has been for so many others whose bodies were destroyed playing Football. When your body tells you it’s time, that’s when you know. On some level, Luck didn’t have a choice. He didn’t have anything more to give, and you have to listen to your body. After all, the kid has been through hell and back:

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The mere fact that we (myself included) look at this as sad shows the problem with fandom and how we view sports and athletes, the discrepancy between the false spectacle it creates and the stories of the actual people behind it all. Football is not real; it’s a game. Life, and people, they are real. Luck’s retirement really should be something to be celebrated. Luck is making the right choice, and now he will get to live his life (hopefully) free of pain. I’m happy for him, and wish him nothing but the best.

But at the end of the day, however flawed, I am a fan, and I can’t help but see it from a fan’s perspective. And from a fan’s perspective, we were just robbed of someone that could have, that should have, been an all time great. There aren’t that many people that you can say that about. Luck was one of them. The fact that he didn’t get the opportunity to live up his potential, just doesn’t seem right.

Look, there are a lot of factors that went into this. I don’t intend to blame any one person or thing. This was Luck’s decision, first and foremost. And there’s always risk of injury when you play Football. Having said that, it’s hard not to see this as a massive failure on the part of the Colts organization.

Luck did spectacular things on the Football field. But from day one, he was never given the support he was needed to not only be successful, but to protect himself.

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Luck took too many hits from the beginning, and it was never corrected. Yes, it’s part of the sport, but you can’t say these things don’t have an effect, and this was preventable. Over the days, weeks, years, those hits take a toll, and despite his ability to continuously play at a high level, it clearly permanently damaged Luck, to the point where he had to cut his career short. I have no doubt that if Luck was drafted by a different team, he would still be playing.

Andrew Luck gave us an amazing career of Football. He was put in situations other QBs would not succeed in, and he consistently went above and beyond to thrive. When it comes to 4th Quarter Prowess, ability to win high scoring games, deep passing ability, and ability to put the team on on his back, Luck was as good as anyone. His skillset was truly unique: The big playmaking ability and escapability of Ben Roethlisberger, with the accuracy and field general ability of Peyton Manning.

 

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Put simply, this is now how it should have ended. Luck could have played 15-20 seasons in the NFL with a chance at the Hall of Fame. He should have been battling it out with Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes for AFC Supremacy year in and year out for the next decade. Instead, he was forced to retire.

When it comes to missed opportunity, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

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Revisiting the College Football Playoff’s Alabama/Ohio State Decision

Exactly three months ago today, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released their final team rankings for the 2017 College Football season, determining who would be included and who would be left out of the 2017-18 College Football Playoff. The Clemson Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, and Alabama Crimson Tide were selected to participate in the 4 team playoff for the National Championship. Alabama ultimately went on to win it all in historic fashion. They took down the first ranked Clemson Tigers 24-6, before rallying back down 20-7 to defeat the SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs 27-23 in OT. They did so behind the play of their (then) backup Quarterback Tua Tag Tagovailoa, as Head Coach Nick Saban made the gutsy decision to pull his starting QB, Jaylen Hurtz, after being down 13-0 at Halftime. Tua rallied them back and threw the Game Winning Touchdown Pass in OT.

All in all, it was a spectacular finish to to the College Football Season. And for Alabama, it was their fifth National Championship Win in nine years, all under Nick Saban. Yet the aura surrounding the conclusion to that game seemed to almost entirely overshadow the fact that Alabama was very close to not even making the Playoff at all, and that their inclusion by the committee was rather controversial at the time, and something that many viewed as a big mistake. Now that the season is over and we have access to the results, I think it’s worth revisiting this decision by the committee, as doing so will better help us understand how they operate, why that decision was made, and whether we were wrong to create so much controversy over the inclusion of a team that would eventually become National Champions.

The Lead-Up: How We Got to Alabama vs Ohio State

For much of the season, it was a reasonable assumption that Alabama would make the playoff. They started the year on a tear, absolutely destroying everyone they played. They were ranked 1st in the AP Poll from weeks One Through Thirteen straight. They dropped down to five in Week 14. The College Football Playoff Rankings started during Week 10. In these rankings, which would ultimately determine entry into the four team Playoff, Alabama was ranked 2, 2, 1, 1, until they dropped to five in Week 14.

So what happened in Week 14? Up to that point, they seemed like a shoe-in. Well, Alabama lost to their SEC West rival, the Auburn Tigers, 26-14. This was Alabama’s final scheduled game of the season before the SEC Championship Game. Though Alabama would finish the regular season with fewer overall losses than Auburn, they were both  7-1 in conference play, which meant that their head to head matchup would be the tiebreaker for inclusion in the Conference Championship Game. Naturally, having won that matchup, that honor went to Auburn in the West. This put Alabama in the awkward position of, despite having just one loss on the season, not being able to further bolster their case to the committee. Without a Conference Championship game to participate in, they had no games left to play. While other teams could go distinguish themselves in their respective championship games, Alabama, now just looking in from the outside ranked at 5th, would seemingly have to rely on external circumstances to get in. (Nick Saban, recognizing this, wisely began making his case to the committee for Alabama’s inclusion right away.)

I bring this up because the committee needed every possible game available to make their decision. 4 Teams is an awfully small playoff field, and with only 12 to 13 games, depending on the team–I’m not sure why some teams play more games than others–plus conference championship in the College Football season, every game counts. This is especially the case when there are so many good teams. This year was one of the most competitive Top 10s we’ve seen in College Football in awhile. You could have made a case for just about any team in the Top 10 to be included in the playoff. Heck, you could even go further than that. The final CFP Top 16 were as follows: 1Clemson, 2OU, 3Georgia, 4Alabama, 5Ohio State, 6Wisconsin, 7Auburn, 8USC (Pac-12 Champion!!), 9Penn State, 10UMiami, 11Washington, 12UCF (Undefeated on the season!! (and would later go on to defeat Auburn in their bowl game)), 13Stanford, 14Notre Dame, 15TCU, 16Michigan State. You could easily make a case for an expanded playoff field with all those teams, and we very well could be looking at one not far off in the future.

Notre Dame (14Final) was ranked 3rd in the Week 10 and 11 CFP Rankings. UMiami (10Final) was ranked 3rd and 2nd in the Week 12 and 13 CFP Rankings. No team in the final Top 12 had more than 2 losses. It shows how hard it is to pick just 4 teams, and because of that, why even just one loss, especially late in the season, can be exempting. Look at Penn State, for example. They were ranked in the AP Top 5 for Weeks 2 Through 9 of the season. They had a phenomenal year and looked great in their bowl game. But their two losses were to Big Ten East rivals: A 38-39 loss at 6Ohio State (5Final), where OSU’s game winning touchdown came with less than two minutes left, and a 24-27 loss at 24Michigan State (16Final), who kicked a field goal as time expired. Both tight, to the nail losses to quality opponents, the latter of which could have been very different had their not been a 3+ hours long rain delay in the middle of the game. Nonetheless, those losses kept Penn State out of a conference championship, as well as out of the playoff.

So because of this small margin for error when it comes to the playoff, it was reasonable to think that Alabama’s loss to Auburn and lack of Conference Championship would keep them out of the Playoff.  How can you be the best team in the country if you’re not even the best in your conference?

After Bama lost to Auburn, the CFP Rankings looked like this:

  1. Clemson
  2. Auburn
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Alabama
  6. Georgia
  7. University of Miami
  8. Ohio State

It set up for a fascinating Conference Championship Weekend, which would go a long way in determining who would make the playoff. It truly was (just as ESPN advertised it to be) a fight to the finish. These were the matchups:

SEC Championship: 6Georgia (11-1) vs 2Auburn (10-2)

ACC Championship: 1Clemson (11-1) vs 7Miami (10-1)

Big 12 Championship: 11TCU (10-2) vs 3Oklahoma (11-1)

Big 10 Championship: 8Ohio State (10-2) vs 4Wisconsin (12-0)

Thinking back to this time, there were so many scenarios that could have occurred that it’s hard to keep track of and explain. Teams were most likely out if they lost, but if other teams also lost, they could maybe have snuck back in, depending on who it was that lost. But the simplest way to get in was to win. SEC Champion was guaranteed in. ACC Champion was guaranteed in. Oklahoma and Wisconsin, if they won, were guaranteed in. That would have been the simplest scenario. TCU was probably too low either way. And Ohio State, ranked at 8 was riiighhtttt on the cusp. Recall that Alabama was looking in on the outside, so they needed help. Which meant, based on what I just wrote, that if Oklahoma and Wisconsin won, then Alabama was out of luck.

The simplest scenario almost happened. Clemson blew Miami out of the water, and Georgia comfortably handled Auburn on the neutral field. There go two spots. Oklahoma comfortably handled TCU, there goes another spot. The last spot was there for the taking for Wisconsin. But they faltered and lost the Big Ten Championship 27-21 to Ohio State.

Notice that I’ve made very little, if any, case for Ohio State yet. When the final rankings came out, many people viewed them as slighted because of their Conference Championship. In those peoples’ minds, that Championship (along with other factors, which I’ll get into later), rightly earned them the spot as the Fourth Best Team in the Country. The three other conference championships were determining factors for the other three teams in, so why shouldn’t that be the case for Ohio State too?

This is how the narrative was framed, and it was justifiable once we were at that point. But I think it’s important to look at the big picture and remember how we got there, and I think once we do that, this narrative starts to look a little shortsighted. The narrative was that you had these elite teams at the top, and that Ohio State was one of them. But that wasn’t really the case. As I’ve established, the final few weeks gave us a generally very strong top 10 with a lot of possible scenarios and a lot of contenders vying for spots. When you look at the entirety of the season, there was a group of elite contenders at the top as generally indicated by both the AP Polls and the CFP Rankings. Those teams were Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama. Auburn rightfully put itself in that conversation with its dominant wins over both Georgia and Alabama. I think it’s useful to look at their Iron Bowl win as them essentially switching places with Bama. It both served to elevate their own standing (that they beat someone as good as Bama) while simultaneously lowering that of Bama (maybe Bama’s not as great as we thought). But their loss to Georgia in the Championship proved that they’re not the same team on the road, and that re-opened the door for Bama.

So Clemson, Georgia, and Bama–>Just Kidding Auburn–>Just Kidding Actually Bama were always the top dogs. Oklahoma too, put itself in that conversation because, well, despite a bad defense, Baker Mayfield was generally unstoppable. Then there was, in my opinion (and I think it’s backed up by the committee rankings) this second tier of contenders. Miami, Notre Dame, USC, etc. They all ended up having losses that showed they weren’t quite ready. And Ohio State was always more teetering on the top of that second tier then being part of the first tier. You could really put the top four Big Ten Teams there. They’re all very good, but are they at the level of Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama/Auburn? So the question then became, did Ohio State deserve to move to the bottom of the first tier (the playoff group) as opposed to the top of the second tier?

Because let’s remember, in the second to last CFP Rankings, Bama was ranked 5th (just looking into the playoff) and Ohio state was ranked 8th (more middling). Yes, I know they had the Conference Championship, but they were the lowest ranked team heading into Championship Weekend besides TCU, and had the most losses as well, tied with TCU and Auburn. But Auburn had the two dominant wins over top dogs Georgia and Bama, which, with a Conference Championship, would have been enough to overlook their two losses.

So when you look at it from this perspective, even with a Conference Championship, Ohio State should never have definitely been in. They were still teetering in the middle. So outside of that simple metric of Conference Championships, something that is very easy to point to and has a ring of prestige to it (as well as the recency bias of it, being the last game of the season played before the playoff), what led to people thinking that 8th ranked Ohio State deserved to be in the conversation with the top teams?

Well, I think the Conference Championship is the main reason, but also look what happened to everyone ranked above them. They beat Wisconsin in that game, so they had to be ranked higher than them. Georgia, with the comfortable win over Auburn, reaffirmed their season-long position as top dog, which also led to Auburn dropping way down. And Miami–who, despite starting the season 10-0 with two primetime blowouts of ranked opponents–the committee was always skeptical of, dropped way down with their meltdown in Clemson, which justified the committee’s hesitance.

So really, what screwed this whole thing up was Auburn. You had top dogs Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia, and then you had Auburn dominantly defeat and knock back both Georgia and Bama on separate occasions. The committee was very high on Georgia and Bama, so by defeating them, the committee was forced to respect Auburn as well. But after the SEC Championship game, Auburn’s loss–their third of the season–gave the committee the rationale to reverse back to their original position of Georgia and Bama being at the top. Enough teams moved around that Ohio State was able to slip into the No 5 position, but it still wasn’t enough for the committee to value them at the level of Georgia, Bama, Clemson, and Oklahoma.

It’s all very complicated, but we have to do our best to break it all down and look at as big a picture possible if we want to understand why what happened, happened.

Ohio State Had a Case

Now that we’ve established what led to Ohio State’s position of being just outside the top (in short: Bama lost to Auburn, Auburn lost to Georgia, Ohio State beat Wisconsin in the Championship, a bunch of other things did and didn’t happen…), let’s look at why so many people thought that Ohio State should have been included in the Playoff. And just to be clear, I’m not shilling for Bama here. Ohio State did have a strong case for inclusion, and there’s a good argument that, at least according to resume, they were a more deserving team than Bama.

1) Ohio State Was the Big Ten Champion.

As I mentioned earlier, the top 3 ranked playoff teams were Conference Champions. If Wisconsin had beaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, they almost certainly would have gotten in as an undefeated Conference Champion. Alabama, on the other hand, didn’t even play in their Conference Championship. So after a week where Ohio State further distinguished itself with a win, and Bama didn’t do anything to change their prospects (they didn’t play), the committee still went with Bama. That is frustrating if you’re an Ohio State fan, and deservingly so.

2) Ohio State had a Stronger Strength of Schedule than Alabama

The committee talks a lot about the importance of strength of schedule. College Football teams, after all, choose which opponents they will play in advance. Ohio State had one more loss than Alabama, but one of those losses was to the Oklahoma Sooners. Buckeyes fans felt that the committee was punishing Ohio State for their strength of schedule. “The committee is making the point [that] wins and losses matter more than resume,” ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer said in response to the final rankings reveal. Ohio State would finish the season with wins over Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Two of those teams would finish the season in the CFP Top 10, and Ohio State would add a third top 10 win with their shutout of Pac-12 Champion USC in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama, on the other hand, played LSU (Final17) and Mississippi State (Final23). Their toughest opponent was Auburn, and they lost that game. So according to season ending rankings, Alabama’s best ranked win (Final17LSU) was worse than Ohio State’s worst (Final16 Michigan State).

3) Alabama didn’t look good against quality competition.

Alabama destroyed the nobodies on their schedule. But they seemed to sleepwalk down the stretch against some of their SEC opponents. They beat Texas A&M 27-19, LSU 24-10, Mississippi State 31-24 with a late rally, and of course, their only real quality SEC opponent, the Auburn Tigers, they lost to.

When you put these facts together, it’s clear why Ohio State fans felt slighted. They had a strong schedule and a conference championship to go with it, and instead they lost their playoff spot to Alabama. Many saw this as the committee both a) capitulating to the Alabama name, and b) being biased towards the SEC.

At face value, it seems like Ohio State should have gotten in. And had they, they would have easily been able to justify it. Even so, these facts still don’t tell the whole story.

Ohio State’s Case Wasn’t That Strong

At the end of the day, the question wasn’t whether Ohio State had a case. It was whether that case was strong enough to put them in the competition over Alabama, and it simply wasn’t. Each of the points I just made for Ohio State could be justifiably argued against, as I will do now.

1) Ohio State Was the Big Ten Champion.

Earlier I talked about how the fact that there are so few games in College Football makes the margin for error very small. This applies to Conference Championships too, and nothing shows this better than Alabama’s 2017 season. They were undefeated up until their last game of the season. They lost a tough fight to one of the best teams in the country (and their rival) at one of the hardest places to play (Auburn also beat Georgia in Auburn, 40-17. Bama lost 26-14). Just like that, they’re out of the Conference Championship.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone wants to be a Conference Champion. And I’m new to College Football so maybe I’m looking at this wrong. But ultimately, Bama wasn’t a Conference Champion because they lost one game (their only loss) at the end of the year. Those are the rules, and if they keep Bama from playing in the SEC Title Game, then fine… but I’m not sure it should undermine the fact that Bama was one of the best teams in the country for the entire year.

Even better though, let’s look at Ohio State. Yes, they won a conference championship. But it was only by the margin of 27-21. And if you watched that game, you got the sense that it could have been by a lot more. Wisconsin was more or less sleepwalking through that game. And they still took it to the very end. I think if Ohio State had gone out and destroyed Wisconsin, they would have had a much better case for going in. But they didn’t. When you’re that low in the rankings, you need to make as strong a case as possible, and I’m just not sure Ohio State did that.

2) Ohio State had a Stronger Strength of Schedule than Alabama

This is another point that is a bit overblown, in my opinion. Yes, it’s true, but I’m not sure the difference was significant enough to merit Ohio State’s inclusion.

Ohio State lost to Oklahoma, yes, but that wasn’t the loss that doomed them. It was their 55-24 loss to unranked Iowa in November. That’s a 31 point loss to an unranked team. Yes, there are weaker teams in college football, but it’s still unacceptable. That showed the committee that they simply couldn’t trust Ohio State to play with the big boys. You need to beat who you’re supposed to beat, and you need to be consistent on a week to week basis. Alabama has a record 73 straight wins against unranked teams. There is a zero percent chance they would have lost to Iowa. Zero.

Furthermore, Ohio State had their fair share of nobodies on the schedule. They played Army and UNLV early in the year, as well as all the little brothers of the Big Ten (Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois, etc).

Also, we have to mention that Alabama, in their opener, pummeled Florida State, during the only 3 1/2 quarters of the season when they had their starting QB healthy.

3) Alabama didn’t look good against quality competition.

But the same could be said for Ohio State. Yes, their wins against Penn State and Michigan State were impressive. As I said, they really weren’t that impressive at all in the championship vs Wisconsin. And what about their 31-20 win vs Michigan? I watched that game, and it was hardly dominant either–despite the fact that Michigan had zero offense last year. John O Korn had two straight drives to push for a go ahead TD and just threw the game away. On the first, he lost his composure under pressure and threw a jump pass (for no reason), missing a wide open man on 4th and 2 around midfield. On the next, he lobbed an INT straight to the safety on the first play of the drive with plenty of time in the pocket. A replay showed it was clearly the wrong read.

Sure, throw out the records when it’s Michigan/Ohio State, but the same can be said for LSU/Alabama. Mississippi State as well. The fact of the matter is that both of these teams had arguments counting against them, and Ohio State’s argument for simply wasn’t strong enough to push them in over Alabama. They had a case, and it would have been fine if they got in, but their case certainly wasn’t strong enough that people should have been getting as upset as they did.

The Committee’s Reasoning Made Sense

After Ohio State got left out, there was a lot of criticism surrounding the College Football Playoff committee and their process. That they’re too inconsistent, that they’re not holding themselves to the standards they set out, that they can’t justify their decisions, etc.

But at the end of the day, if you listen to what they said, they gave perfectly logical justifications for their inclusion of Alabama.

1) Alabama was consistently a top team over the course of the year.

This is something I addressed earlier in this post–it’s crucial to look at the rankings over the course of the season, and when you do that, it’s clear that the committee (who watches each of these teams each and every week) consistently viewed Alabama as a top football team. Here’s Kirby Hocutt of the CFP Committee the day of the rankings release:

“We spent a great amount of time last night into the morning, again beginning at 7:30 this morning, talking about the full body of work. Now that the complete season is in front of us, we have the full body of work. The selection committee just favored Alabama’s full body of work over that of Ohio State. And it was consistent over the course of the year. As we saw Alabama play week in and week out–our rankings show, when we start with a clean sheet of paper each and every week, that the selection committee believed that Alabama was the better Football team.”

2) The Iowa loss mattered.

When you see Ohio State fans say that Ohio State didn’t get in because they played a stronger schedule and that they should schedule weaker opponents in order to get in, it’s somewhat absurd because it totally ignores the Iowa loss. Iowa wasn’t a ranked team. So that loss didn’t have anything to do with strength of scheduling. Yes, Ohio State also lost to Oklahoma, but that wasn’t the deciding factor. Replace Oklahoma with an easy win on that schedule, keep everything else the same, including the Iowa loss, and the committee’s decision is very much likely to be the same. Or, take away the Iowa loss, and both Bama and Ohio State have one loss to ranked opponents, and in that case Ohio State probably gets in. So although strength of schedule did favor Ohio State, it’s also not what kept them out, and shouldn’t be mentioned as such. Heres Hocutt echoing the point:

“The selection committee looked at a one loss Alabama team, that one loss coming against the final ranking No 7 team Auburn in a very competitive game; we compared that to a 2 loss Ohio State team, obviously the one loss at home to the No 2 ranked Oklahoma, but more damaging was the 31 point loss to unranked Iowa.”

3) In this case, resume was a tiebreaker that wasn’t needed, not the deciding factor.

This is the one people struggle with the most. “How can you leave out a Conference Champion Ohio State team?”, they ask. The answer is that the committee’s agenda first and foremost is to pick the best teams on film. Things like conference championship, strength of schedule, are mere tiebreakers when the film isn’t clear. But in this case, the film was clear, so the tiebreakers weren’t needed. Therefore, it didn’t matter that Ohio State was a Conference Champion. Says Hocutt:

“Our charge is very simple. Our charge as the selection committee is to identify the four very best teams in the country for participation into the semifinals. And when there are close separation between teams, then we’re instructed to look at certain criteria. In this case, the margins weren’t close enough for us to look at those matters. […] Our charge is very clear: The four very best teams, and Alabama is included in those teams this College Football Season.”

4) So Conference Championships Don’t Matter?

This is another overreaction you heard a lot. No, they do. Three of the teams were Conference Champions. Usually, most of the time, the best teams will be Conference Champions. But sometimes they aren’t. Ohio State should know this better than anyone else. They were selected for inclusion two years ago over conference Champion Penn State. The committee chose Ohio State over Penn State, despite the latter’s championship and the former’s lack thereof, because they believed Ohio State was the better team. No Ohio State fan who supported that decision can rationally be upset by this one. Again, here’s Hocutt explaining the matter:

“We look at the four very best teams. Conference Championships are important. If you look at the history of the CFP Playoffs, 14 of the 16 teams have been Conference Champions. But however, we have the flexibility and the discretion to put non-champions in the top 4 if they are one of the four very best, and that’s what took place last night [and] was confirmed this morning.”

The job of these guys is to pick the best team on film. If you believe that, after watching film, Ohio State was the best team, then so be it. Go make your case. But for the most part, that’s not the argument you’re hearing. You’re hearing the argument I outlined above. But the fact that the Ohio State Bukeyes were Conference Champions and played a tougher schedule, doesn’t make them the best team on film. It might make them more deserving or more accomplished, and that’s something we can argue. But that’s not what this system is about. Here’s ESPN Analyst and former player Booger Macfarland after hearing the decision:

“The initiative of the College Football Playoff Committee is to get the four best teams. I think we in the media try to figure out different ways to make it easy for people at home to come to that conclusion. We come up with all these different formulas, all these different numbers. Let’s go back to the beginning what it’s about: It’s about the four best teams.”

It Will Never Be 100% Consistent

At the end of the day, you can’t quantify all this stuff. There are simply too many factors. So it’s not entirely accurate to say that film is the only thing that plays a role. If you’re an undefeated conference champion, you’re going to get in. There are things you can do to control your own destiny. If you play good teams, dominant your opponents, and win, you’re going to get in. Not necessarily all those things at the same time. But it’s why Wisconsin and Miami would have been in with Conference Championship Wins. They would have been 1 loss and 0 loss Conference Champions. It’s why Auburn would have been in with 2 losses–because they would have been Conference Champions with 2 wins over top teams.

But there are also things you can do to take destiny out of your own hands. When Ohio State lost by 31 to an unranked team, they took destiny out of their own hands. It’s not just that they lost. It’s that they lost by 31, and that it was to an unranked team. But let’s be clear: When Alabama took themselves out of Conference Championship contention, they took destiny out of their own hands too. It wasn’t just Ohio State.

At that point, you had two teams that didn’t make clear cases for themselves. So when that’s the case, it’s purely up to the committee and what they think by watching film. And they thought Alabama was better.

This isn’t bullshit. Let’s not treat it as such. No one liked the BCS. No one wanted a formula. Football is too subjective. This was an attempt to make the system and the competition as good as possible. And while there will obviously be blips along the way, it’s hard to argue with this year’s results. And ultimately, that is why we should be optimistic about the committee and trust their process going forward.

The Bottom Line: Was Alabama one of the Four Best Teams?

How many times have I used the phrase “four best teams” in writing this article? That’s what’s been drilled into my head the more I listen to the committee, to Kirk Herbstreit, to people who talk about the CFP and understand the system. That’s what it’s about. So at the end of the day, Alabama was the right choice if they were one of the four best teams. So were they?

I’m not a big fan of using results to justify the process. In fact, I think it’s one of the biggest problems in sports (and politics, and society in general…). But with this, it’s different. The only way to say if Alabama was one of the four best teams is if they beat the other top teams. And that’s exactly what they did.

Look, we won’t ever know how Ohio State would have done if they had gotten in. We can guess, but we can’t say for sure. But we do know how Alabama did. And the results speak for themselves.

It’s funny looking back at the youtube comments on the final CFP rankings reveal video. Everyone was saying Alabama would get destroyed by Clemson. I mean, I think we forget with how high a regard this Clemson team was held. They were considered by many, including the committee, to be the best team in the country. Alabama beat them 24-6 in the semifinal. And we know what happened next. Bama came back down 20-7 to beat Georgia in OT. In the same way that Oklahoma’s offense stalled late in the game when it played Georgia in the Rose Bowl, Georgia’s offense stalled late in the game in National Championship. At the end of the day, Alabama’s defense is the gold standard, and they can play with absolutely anybody.

Sure, there were a lot of things that could have gone differently in that game, like in any Football game. But it wasn’t a fluky win (like Super Bowl 51 was, but that’s another conversation…). Bama was dominant in every facet of the game, and they earned the win.

If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you’re positive that Ohio State, after barely beating Wisconsin, could have gotten through Clemson and Georgia in the way that Alabama did, then by all means, more power to you. But I have trouble that most people could really believe that.

At the end of the day, the CFP Committee got it right. Their job was to pick the best teams, and that’s exactly what they did.

Why bring this up now?

Because no one would shut up about it, that’s why!

The CFP is broken! The committee is corrupt! ESPN is a joke! Bla bla bla…

Look, I’m not saying it was a no brainer. Heck I just spent over 5000 words writing about it. There’s obviously a ton that went into this and a ton to talk about. It’s something I myself struggled with a lot.

But it’s worth looking back. For one, because it’s simply an interesting exercise to reflect on process, evaluate what we were right and wrong about, what went into it, and how we can learn from it. But two, because going forward, the committee showed that, despite how upset everyone got, it made the right decision, and because of that it deserves our trust.

I’m not saying don’t question the committee. I’m not saying don’t keep having conversations about this moving forward. Absolutely do. At the same time, this was a decision that perplexed a lot of people at the time it was made. Now, with the season past us, hopefully having this discussion has made some things more clear in retrospect, and will allow us to better understand the process the next time something like this happens.

And let’s also remember, the next time people get upset and say that the CFP committee doesn’t know what they’re doing, that at the end of the day they put a team in that many people thought they shouldn’t, and that team went on to win a National Championship. Maybe they know some things that we don’t.

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After Disappointing Outback Bowl Loss, Michigan has More Questions than Answers Heading into the Offseason

We know Michigan lost a record number of starters to the NFL last year, particularly on defense. We know they were able to win eight games despite this and despite playing three different Quarterbacks. Before their bowl game, I actually thought they had showed promise to end the season. Their losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State were both close games, and both could have been won with a modicum of Quarterback play.

But then, they imploded during their bowl game. It was alarming, and it led me to reevaluate this Michigan Football team and their prospects for the future.

Michigan was granted a pretty easy and winnable bowl matchup. They played South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, certainly not the epitome of bowl matchups. They built a 19-3 lead with just over 5 minutes left in the third quarter. It was, as it has been frequently this season, the Quinn Nordin field goal fest, but it looked like they were on their way to a comfortable win.

They ended up blowing the 16 point lead and losing the game 26-19, giving up 23 unanswered.

Everyone’s talking about the offense, as they should be, but I want to start with the defense, because it’s been somewhat overlooked. This is a good defense for sure, but too often now it just seems like they run out of steam late in games. Michigan was up 10-7 in this year’s matchup against Wisconsin, and they immediately gave up two big pass plays to allow Wisconsin to take the lead. A late long run from Jonathan Taylor a couple drives later sealed the game at 10-24. Michigan was up 14-0 vs Ohio State and they ended up losing the game 20-31. In last year’s loss to Ohio State, they were up 17-14 late and ended up losing in OT (although they were helped by some poor officiating). And even in this year’s 13-42 drubbing by Penn State, one of the worst losses you’ll ever see from a Michigan team, it was only a 13-14 deficit at the half. And now there’s this Outback Bowl loss, which included a long TD pass from South Carolina in the 4th to put them up 23-19. Too often it seems, this defense runs out of steam in the second half. Too often, when they need a big stop to put the game away, they end up giving up a big play. The offense not being able to score is certainly part of it, but the defense shouldn’t be ignored.

And then there’s the Michigan offense, specifically their play at Quarterback. This was supposed to a big outing for Brandon Peters, supposedly the guy that is their future at Quarterback, the guy that should have been playing all year, a chance for him to show what he’s really capable of and stave off the competition and hype surrounding incoming Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson (if he’s deemed eligible).

Instead, Peters put on a very poor showing. He was 20/44 for 186 Yards, No Touchdowns, and 2 Interceptions. It’s the third time of the season he was under 50% completion, revealing some accuracy concerns. That measly 186 yards was also a season high for him — despite the 44 attempts. Perhaps most concerning of all for Peters was the interception he threw with 8 minutes left in the 4th Quarter. It was 3rd and goal from the six. Peters dropped back, looked right, then scrambled left and made an awful throw to the endzone while being hit. This is terrible situational football. If you kick a field goal there, you’re only down one point. That means you can kick a field goal to win, and Quinn Nordin has a range of over 50 (he kicked a 55 yarder in week 1 in this year). The interception reminded me of a turnover in the redzone Peters had at Wisconsin. He was rolling left and attempting to run toward the endzone. He ended up diving for the endzone several yards away. He was hammered well short of the endzone by multiple defenders, and the ball flew loose. Peters has to take better care of the football. He threw another INT on 4th and 1 on his own 41 with a minute left in the game.

Let’s talk about Michigan’s Quarterback situation, as that was their biggest problem this year and arguably in the Jim Harbaugh era. I’ve read some takes that you’re only as good as your quarterback, and that in this department, Michigan has had bad luck and Harbaugh has done the best he can with what he has.

On some level, this is true, and I bought it for a while. After all, Wilton Speight was injured in week 4, and John O’Korn was clearly never the guy.

But how much blame does Harbaugh deserve for not being able to properly develop a Quarterback? The more I’ve followed College Football, the more I think he does deserve some of the blame. Because when you look at the good teams in College, they’re often able to plug and play guys. Good recruitment and coaching, as well as having a good team identity, makes it so you see the same teams having success year in and year out despite the revolving door at Quarterback that is all but inevitable at the college level.

Perhaps the best example is Alabama in this year’s National Championship Game. Tua Tagovailoa comes off the bench and leads a comeback down 20-7 against the Georgia defense. Also, look at Ohio State. Jonathan Haskins came off the bench in this year’s game against Michigan and led a late comeback.

The more you look at the “Harbaugh just has had bad luck at QB” narrative, the more it falls apart. Let’s start with Speight. Sure, he was the starter and got injured, sure, that always hurts, and sure, he probably would have been more serviceable than O’Korn. But that ignores the fact that he had been on the decline since his injury in 2016. He was injured in week 4 this year, yet he was benched for poor play in week 1 to O’Korn himself, before getting injured! In the 4 games Speight started this year, he passed for a pedestrian 54.3% comp, 581 yards, 7.2 y/a, and 3 TD to 2 INT. Compare that to last year’s 61.6% comp, 2538 yards, 7.7 y/a, 18 TD, and 7 INT. Clearly not the same guy.

If O’Korn was never the guy, why was he starting over Peters in the first place? I had initially thought it was because they wanted to redshirt Peters, but it seems that Peters actually redshirted the year prior. So starting O’Korn for so many games made very little sense if he truly wasn’t the guy. And if Peters is the guy, whatup with that Outback Bowl performance? For most of his games, he’s been a game manager at best. If he is the guy, (and Harbaugh once compared him to Andrew Luck), we haven’t really seen it yet.

It was a good move by Michigan bringing in Shea Patterson from Ole Miss. If he’s eligible and ends up playing, he will bring some spark to the offense. But this week, we’re seeing reports that Wilton Speight, who at the end of the season had said he would transfer, might come back to Michigan if Patterson isn’t eligible. While this seems to make sense at first, it’s a bit alarming once you think about it. Dylan McCaffrey and Brandon Peters are supposed to be the future for Michigan. According to 247 Sports, McCaffrey was the 5th ranked pro style prospect in the nation, and Peters was the 6th. At some point we need to see these guys play. Bringing back the seemingly on the decline Speight just looks like another stopgap. If Peters and McCaffrey aren’t ready to play, that begs the question, why the hell not?

Looking back further at the history of Michigan Quaterbacks in Jim Harbaugh’s short tenure as Head Coach, Shane Morris barely played, and ended up transferring to Central Michigan last year, where he actually did an okay job, throwing for 55.8% comp, 7.26 y/a, 27 TD, and 17 INT. The Chippewas went 8-5, and tied for second place in the MAC West Division (although you have to assume these numbers would look much worse were he playing in the Big 10, where the Wolverines play). Alex Malzone… he doesn’t even have a wikipedia page so I don’t really know what his deal is, but it seems after close to no playing time at Michigan, he’s pursuing a graduate Transfer to Miami Ohio.

So the best Harbaugh has done with Quarterback at Michigan was Wilton Speight in 2016 before being injured (or facing Ohio State, whatever narrative suits you better), and striking gold with Jake Rudock in 2015 after transferring from Iowa. Rudock was pretty good for sure, but he also ended up being drafted by the Detroit Lions in the NFL (albeit as a sixth rounder and a backup), which makes you wonder how much of his talent was innate vs Jim Harbaugh coaching.

None of this is to say Jim Harbaugh should be fired. He shouldn’t. He took over a Brady Hoke team that had declined in wins every year of his tenure, culminating in a 5 win 2014 season, and led them to back to back 10 win seasons. At least for now, they’re not going to find anyone better than him.

But at the end of the day, 4th in the Big Ten East simply isn’t good enough for a franchise as prestigious as the Wolverines.

The biggest concern for me is that Michigan seems to be moving backwards when their rivals are only moving forwards. The Michigan State Spartans, after a disappointing 3-9 2016 campaign, finished the season at 10-3, tied for 2nd in the Big Ten East, with some pretty impressive moments from the Sophomore Brian Lewerke, including a 27-24 win vs Penn State. They finished 15th in the final AP rankings. Michigan’s best bet is that Michigan State’s sexual misconduct allegations within that organization get in the way of their on field product.

Penn State will be losing Saquon Barkley, but don’t expect them to go anywhere so long as Trace McSorley is at the helm. He was really impressive, showing great movement, decision making, and accuracy as the QB of that high flying offense. This was especially evident during their 35-28 Fiesta Bowl win. Penn State’s offense is extremely dynamic, well schemed, and hard to defend, and I expect them to continue to be a force to be reckoned with even without Barkley. McSorley finished 17th in the FBS in passing yards with 3570, and 15th in pass touchdowns with 28. Penn State finished the year 8th in the final AP rankings, and they would have been right in the playoff discussion if not for their two big ten losses to Michigan State and Ohio State by a combined 4 points. They finished the season 11-2, tied for 2nd in the Big Ten East.

Then there’s the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have been in the playoff mix for years and who many thought deserved a spot in this year’s College Football Playoff. They were Big Ten Champions and finished the season with a 24-7 drubbing of the USC Trojans in the Cotton Bowl, with their defensive line absolutely wreaking havoc. They finished the season ranked 5th in the final AP rankings. Sure, JT Barrett is graduating, but when he went out with injury in the Michigan game, Jonathan Haskins stepped in and led a comeback victory. If that’s a harbinger of things to come, the rest of the Big Ten better watch out.

Then there’s Michigan. In 2015 and 2016, the first two years of Harbaugh’s tenure, they had back to back 10 win seasons, and were ranked 12th and 10th in the AP Poll, respectively. They finished this season 8-5 and unranked. That’s not where they want to be.

Ultimately, Michigan didn’t hire Jim Harbaugh to beat up on Rutgers and Maryland. They hired him to take Michigan to the top of the Big 10, and more importantly, to beat the shit out of Ohio State, something he has yet to do.

It’s a tough business. Michigan is a good football team and certainly has the potential to take the next step. Now they just have to put the pieces together and figure out a way to actually do it and get over the hump. Otherwise, they’ll continue to be stuck as the little brothers of the Big Ten East, as they’ve been for a while now. Harbaugh, fair or not, has to figure out a way to fix this. Otherwise, he could be headed back to the NFL.

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Josh Rosen is the Best QB in the NFL Draft

Josh Rosen has officially declared for the NFL draft,  and I believe that he is by far the best QB Prospect in the draft. To be fair, I have only seen about 3 or 4 games worth of tape, and I haven’t substantively studied all of the eligible QBs this year. My opinion, like anyones, is always subject to change after watching more tape. And of course, this is by no means an objective judgment. Evaluating QBs is all about what you value, and everyone is bound to see the prospects differently. That’s what makes the process so fun and interesting.

Having said all that, in my mind, I’ve already seen enough to determine that Josh Rosen is the best QB prospect in the NFL Draft, and quite frankly, it isn’t even close.

It’s tough to sum up what’s so great about Rosen because there’s so much to like about him. But I think the best place to start is with his tremendous mix of NFL acumen/IQ and physical attributes. Quite often, it’s one or the other with QBs. The guys that are good with the more nuanced parts of the game (footwork, accuracy, anticipation) don’t have as good arm strength/speed/size, and vice versa. When you have one, you don’t really have to rely on the other. If you have great physical attributes, it’s easy to hang your hat on those and not develop the nuanced parts of the game. If you don’t have a great arm, you’ve got to be really great at the little things. That’s why the Quarterbacks that have both, are or have a shot at being all time greats (Aaron Rodgers, early Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck).

Josh Rosen has the best combination of NFL attributes and physical talent out of the draft prospects at QB. He has enough arm talent to make every throw. That in and of itself would be enough to make him an intriguing prospect. But when it comes to the nuanced parts of the game that make the great Quarterbacks great (like Tom Brady), he too is a master at those, far ahead of peers, and especially considering the level he is playing at.

Before I go into more specifics about Rosen, let me just preface by saying that my evaluations come from years of watching NFL Quarterbacks as well as following the smartest people in the business. This is not to say that I’m right or that you have to agree with me. It’s just to say that many of the attributes I pick up while watching Quarterbacks such as Rosen are subtleties of the game that might not be evident to casual fans. And this is what makes projecting (and evaluating) Quarterbacks to/in the NFL so difficult. You can’t just judge based on results, wins, or stats. Because there are some things that those just won’t and can’t qualify. (This is also not to say that people don’t fall back on cliches like “I watch film” or “I know the game” to justify their lack of substantive opinion. They do. Rather, I’m just attempting to give you an insight into how I evaluate Quarterbacks and where my opinion is coming from when I talk about them. A lot of these statements I make are based on subtle things you pick up on in watching Quarterbacks that you only start to understand after years of following the NFL.)

So let’s get into it and take a look at Rosen as a prospect, and what makes him so great.

Arm Strength/Physical Attributes

As I already touched on, Rosen has an NFL quality arm. He has the arm strength to make every throw, and the ball comes out of his hand with snap and velocity. He can also make deep down the field throws with little effort. While it’s not an insane arm a la Favre/Rodgers/Stafford, it’s significantly above NFL average and will be very intriguing to scouts. I’d give his arm a 9/10, only slightly below that top tier class of Rodgers/Stafford.

What is also so great about Rosen is that he’s a natural thrower of the football. The ball comes out of his arm very easily and he throws with very little effort. Being a natural thrower is related to arm strength, but it’s not the same. The best example of someone with good arm strength that isn’t a natural thrower is Blake Bortles. For Josh, the ball never comes out wobbly or short, and he’s always in a position where he can reload and throw with ease. He doesn’t have to work hard to throw the football, so to speak. It’s mainly about mechanics, but it’s also just an innate thing. Some people just throw the ball more easily than others. And Josh is always ready to throw and can always throw and put the ball where he wants with ease. That’s important, because as a Quarterback, throwing the ball is your No 1 Job – so you should be able to throw it as well and as easily as possible. Now, he doesn’t have the quickest or shortest release. I would say Sam Darnold’s release is quicker. But I wouldn’t say this is a problem. People have slightly different throwing motions, and his arm speed is quick enough and delivery is compact enough that he will be fine. In fact, sometimes guys with a slight windup are able to get a little more pop on the ball. His motion is somewhat comparable to that of Carson Wentz, maybe a little more compact. His ball position, windup, and release all allow him to get maximal velocity on the ball with minimal wasted motion.

At the end of the day, you’re looking at a high level arm talent and natural thrower of the football in Josh Rosen, and that in and of itself is enough to make him an intriguing prospect.

Footwork

You can almost always tell how comfortable or high level a Quarterback is by looking at his feet first and foremost. There are a few things to look for: 1) Are his movements calm, relaxed, and calculated? Or are they frenetic? 2) How do his feet and steps sync up with the timing of his drop and routes? Is he moving in a way that the play demands? Or is his movement haphazard, uneven, and/or random? and 3) How functionally mobile is the Quarterback? Can he shift and make subtle movements in the pocket in response to pressure? Movement is key at the Quarterback position. If the Quarterback has a clear and calm head, the feet usually follow. Two of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL when it comes to functional mobility are Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that the timing of plays is very different in the College game than in the NFL. Mainly, College Teams on the whole often use much more of a spread offense than NFL teams do. This means that the Quarterback is in the shotgun or pistol almost all the time. There are far fewer deeper drops. You rarely see the five step timing throws, either from under center or out of shotgun, that you see in the NFL. Instead, what you get is a much quicker game. Often the QB is catching the ball and throwing right away (1 step timing), or taking a 3 step drop, or running play action out of multiple option looks. There is less nuanced footwork required. A lot of this has to do with the scheming of offenses in College Football. In college, the hash marks are much further apart than they are in the NFL. This means that the field is much less condensed than it is in the pros. When the ball is set on either the right or left hash in college, you have a ton of field to the far side to work with. Because of that, the college game becomes a lot about utilizing that spacing. This is why you see the prevalence of spread offenses in college. Its much easier to throw quicker timing throws, like WR screens, because it’s advantageous to get the ball to your WR in space. It’s much more effective to run deception based offenses (like those that utilize the option and reverses) because the wide side of the field is a far greater threat. It’s too much field for players to defend, and that leaves the defense vulnerable. One misstep on a fake or an option run gives the offense tons of field to get to the outside. As a defender, there’s too much ground to recover. (The opposite is true as well; over committing to to an outside man on an option play leaves the middle of the field wide open.)

Another thing this does is it makes running and improvisational QBs much more effective in college than in the NFL. In the NFL, to extend a play past 3 or 4 seconds, you need to be able to both manipulate the pocket, and get deep into your progressions to find the weakness in the defense. However in college, if a 3 step timing play isn’t there, the QB often has plenty of field to run around and improvise (the inferiority of college defenders has a lot to do with this as well, both in terms of closing speed in coverage as well as pass rush). In the NFL, if you’re running a 3 step timing play (a quick throw), the ball better be out within 2 seconds, or else you’re going to get walloped.

The spread/option offenses can lead to a far more interesting, fast-paced, diverse, and exciting product for the college game when compared to the NFL. But they also lead to QBs being less prepared for the NFL. Because of the aforementioned factors, you simply don’t see the type of QB drops in college required in the NFL: 5 step from under center, play action from under center, 7 step from under center, 5 step from shotgun. This is not something you can learn over night. The timing of NFL offenses and routes, how those routes sync up with the QBs drops, take time to learn. If you’ve never dropped back from under center, that will be an adjustment. It requires balance and precision with your mechanics. People don’t think about stuff like balance in your footwork and drop when evaluating QBs, but it’s the absolute basics when it comes to the position; every QB that is successful does those things well, and if you can’t do those things well, forget about everything else.

A great example of this is Robert Griffin III. He wasn’t ready for the NFL coming out of Baylor, so Mike Shanahan taylored the Redskin offense in 2012 to look like that of a college offense. It was run primarily out of the pistol, and combined option runs with quick, 1 and 3 step passing. RG3 was rarely asked to drop back straight and read the full field, because he couldn’t. Once NFL defenses learned how to play the option, RG3’s game fell apart. He simply never was able to learn the fundamentals of the Quarterback position.

This is not to say that guys who run spread offenses are incapable of transitioning, but simply that it will be a transition, and if a guy can show that he did things at the college level that he will have to do at the NFL level, then that’s a plus in his evaluation. Two great examples of this were Andrew Luck coming out of Stanford and Carson Wentz coming out of North Dakota. They both had experience running pro style offenses with success, and reading full field NFL type route progressions. This made their transition to the NFL game far quicker than it was for other prospects.

Successful college QBs, because of how different the college game is, often look different than successful NFL QBs. They often have a quicker release, are quicker twitch athletes, maybe have a slightly smaller frame, and can run fast. Two guys that come to mind in the NFL are Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr, both of whom have had their ups and downs in the NFL. Both guys are very quick twitch, as they had to be to run those spread offenses (with all the 1 step timing and option players). But they had less experience with pro style drops and progressions, and as a result have struggled at times. A guy who fits that college QB profile perfectly playing in college right now is Baker Mayfield.

Josh Rosen, on the other hand, is what I imagine an NFL Quarterback to look like. Taller, bigger frame, slightly longer release but stronger arm to go with it, slightly less twitch but also more calm in the pocket.

Of course, there’s a balance here. There are guys that can be the opposite of the college QB, and too deliberate to play in the NFL. Zach Mettenberger is a guy that comes to mind, Tom Savage another, and Jameis Winston at times as well. There are also guys that run pro style offense but just aren’t good enough to be in the NFL, so none of this is a zero sum equation.

But the point with Rosen, even more important than his physical profile, is how effective and smooth he was with his footwork, timing, and execution when it came to running an offense that featured NFL style drops and timing. His five step drop from shotgun and his play action from under center are about as pristine as it gets. He comes off his drop, plants, transfers his weight, and hits the proper read immediately. Or, he’ll calmly step up in the pocket, go through his progressions, and find his outlet receiver at the exact time the play requires it. Everything is in sync. His footwork always matches up with the timing of his routes and his drops. And it all works so seamlessly. He also feels where the pressure is coming from and is able to manipulate the pocket and move away from it without losing his composure. There is simply an NFL style command and control to his game that you don’t see with the other prospects, and this brings us to our final point with Rosen.

IQ

Josh Rosen has all the physical tools, but he also understands the game. This is evident from his complete and total command of a UCLA offense that asked him to be the guy. This is not the case with many offenses in College. Often, once a play is over, QBs will turn to the sideline to get the play call (as will other position groups, looking at different coaches depending on their position). He will run up to the line once the formation is set, then he may turn back to the sideline to get the audible. Coaches signal all this with hand signals or cards, and do so based on what the defense is doing. The QB isn’t running or directing the offense prior to the snap. He’s just one cog in a well oiled machine. This is mainly the case for spread offenses.

The UCLA offense with Josh Rosen, stylistically, could be called a spread offense in the sense that it was run primarily out of the shotgun (although it mixed in under center formations as well). But it differed from the traditional spread in that Rosen ran the show. When they went no huddle, he got the full play call and would portray it to the rest of his team. He also would audible based on the defensive look. Post snap, the offense primarily featured NFL style routes. These are all things a QB will have to do at the next level, and the fact that Rosen not only did them, but did them with such efficacy is a testament to his NFL readiness.

And he was always in command of this offense. He understood where to go with the ball. He directed his receivers based on the play and the defense. He moved with an elegance and nuance as if it was second nature to him. And he threw the football with both velocity and accuracy, especially down the field. One thing I saw that really impressed me from Rosen was the back shoulder throw. That’s an incredibly advanced throw to make and not something you see a lot of in College. It requires a perfect sense of timing and ball placement, as well as a shrewd understanding of the defense and chemistry with your receivers. Rosen had all of that.

Not to mention, his defense was absolutely horrible. He constantly had to play from behind and throw the ball a ton to get back into the game (often over 50 times). This was no problem, as he stacked up 300 yard passing efforts as if they were nothing. Perhaps there’s no better indication of this than his comeback win vs Texas A&M. Down 44-10, Rosen’s Bruins came back and won the game 45-44 on the back of Rosen.

If you’re looking for a guy who can put an offense on his back and has a command and understanding of how to run an offense from an NFL level (and has all the physical attributes to do so), Rosen is your guy.

Conclusion

The Bruins were 6-6 under Rosen this year, but that doesn’t really bother me. When evaluating college QBs, you have to look at traits and attributes, not wins and losses and stats. There’s so much variance in college that those things are useless without context. Besides, that record can mostly be attributed to UCLA’s awful defense. Here was the final score in their losses:

@Memphis: 45-48
@Stanford: 34-58
@Arizona: 30-47
@Washington: 23-44
@Utah: 17-48
@USC: 23-28

You’re not going to see those kind of scores in the NFL. In the wins under Rosen, UCLA scored 45, 56, 27, 31, 44, and 30 points. Is it concerning that all the losses were on the road? Perhaps, but that still seems to me to be a product of poor defense, and perhaps coaching as well (Jim Mora was fired midseason after the USC loss).

Josh Rosen’s Stats in his 3 years at UCLA are as follows:

Freshman Year (2015): 13 games, 60% comp, 3669 Yards, 7.5 Y/A, 23 TD, 11 INT
Sophomore Year (2016): 6 games, 59.3% comp, 1915 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 10 TD, 5 INT
Junior Year (2017): 11 games, 62.6% comp, 3756 Yards, 8.3 Y/A, 26 TD, 10 INT

I think the improvement in his final year is especially noteworthy. You want a guy on the upward path.

The biggest concern for me with Rosen is injuries. He suffered injuries the past two years. It’s something I haven’t looked at to be honest, and something that will have to be scouted carefully (and absolutely will be) for any team who’s interested.

There have also supposedly been questions about Rosen’s attitude, but most of this is speculative, and therefore not something I can put stock into. Unless you’re in the huddle with the guy, there’s really no way of knowing. That is, unless the guy has off the field issues, which Rosen hasn’t. NFL teams will look into all this stuff when they evaluate Rosen, but as an observer, based on some ESPN gossip, it’s not something I’m going to value.

As I said, the evaluation is limited. It’s not as if I’ve watched every snap or seen every full Bruin game since his first start. Having said that, I’m confident in my evaluation and feel as if I’ve absolutely seen enough to assertively say that Rosen is the best QB Prospect in the NFL Draft. It’s evident from watching him on film. It’s certainly a great QB class, but Rosen’s mix of physical attributes, mental acumen, command of his offense, nuanced understanding of the game, and pro readiness, make him a can’t miss guy for any team looking for their next franchise QB. If drafted, Rosen is the type of player that would come in and make an impact immediately.

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How Michigan Can Beat Ohio State Next Weekend

It’s been somewhat of a disappointing year for the Michigan Wolverines. Sure, 8-3 looks good from the outside, but most of those wins have been piled up against lackluster competition. We saw Michigan lay an egg at home against the Spartans, get absolutely demolished at Penn State, and come up short last week against Wisconsin. This is a proud program with championship aspirations, and they didn’t make Jim Harbaugh one of the highest paid coaches in College Football to be just good. Michigan was 10-3 the last two seasons under Harbaugh, and they will likely finish this year at 9-4 or 8-5. Overall, that’s a pretty good record for a coach’s first three years, but unfortunately for Harbaugh, Michigan’s inability to beat their Big 10 rivals is nothing new. Michigan finished 3rd in the Big Ten East at the end of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. They also fell out of the CFP rankings twice this year and will likely be out again this week. In fairness to Harbaugh, Michigan did lose their starting QB, Wilton Speight, during the fourth game of the season, and they lost just about their entire defense to the NFL last year. Still, this game is about results, and considering what Harbaugh is being paid, it’s no wonder Michigan fans are beginning to grow restless with him. Michigan fans want to see this team get over the hump and represent the Big Ten over the likes of Penn State and Ohio State, and so far, we haven’t seen that.

With their 24-10 loss to Wisconsin last week, Michigan all but gave away their chances of representing the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship Game. That spot will now be occupied by Ohio State, who will face Wisconsin in the Championship two weeks from now. Coming off the loss to Wisconsin, Michigan will now have to face an Ohio State team that, at their best, is one of the more potent offenses in College Football. Ohio State is currently ranked at 9 in the CFP rankings, and they’re hoping to find a way into the College Football Playoff, which is very much still a possibility.

All in all, it’s tough to have too much confidence in this Michigan team going into this game. Earlier in the year, this matchup looked like a great way to wrap up the season and determine the Big Ten East Champion. But at this point, it’s certainly looking pretty tilted in Ohio State’s favor. However, this game will be hosted by Michigan at The Big House, and anything can happen in a rivalry game, especially a rivalry as heated as this one. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Michigan can end the season on a high note and pull of the upset at home.

1) Run The Ball

It certainly hurt Michigan to have their starting QB, Wilton Speight, injured during the fourth game of the year, and Michigan fans are definitely upset about backup Brandon Peters getting hurt last week. However, regardless of who’s starting at Quarterback, the Wolverines want to be a run first team. That’s who Harbaugh is. It’s who he was in the NFL, and it’s who Michigan has been with him at the helm. Michigan plays their best when they’re running the football well.

We’ve seen Michigan have some absolutely huge games on the ground this year, yet in their losses, the run seems to have mostly gone away. It is imperative that Michigan stay committed to the run in this game. If they put the game in the hands of Quarterback O’Korn, they’re going to lose. They need to stay stubborn with the run, even if they’re struggling. Karan Higdon has been their best back and I would stick with him if I were Harbaugh, but Chris Evans and Ty Isaac have been capable as well. It’s easy to go into a game against a tough opponent and think that you won’t be able to run the ball, or that you need to throw constantly to keep pace. But Michigan’s identity is tight I-Formations and a run heavy offense. That’s who they’ve been in all of their wins, and you can’t change your identity just because of who you’re playing. Furthermore, Michigan has to stay ahead in down and distance. They can’t drop back on 2nd and 3rd and long in this game and expect to win. Neither their pass protection nor their Quarterback is good enough. If Michigan wants to win, they need to run the ball and do it well. Even if they’re not scoring on every drive, if they can move the ball a bit, take up time of possession, stay ahead of down and distance, and win with field position, they’ll have a shot. But if you’re giving the Ohio State offense possession after possession, they’re going to capitalize, and you’re not going to be able to keep up.

2) Don’t Turn the Ball Over

You can’t give this Ohio State offense extra opportunities. They’re too potent. Since this is unlikely to be an explosive game for Michigan, it has to be a mistake free game. O’Korn probably won’t have a huge game, but the one thing he cannot do is turn the ball over. Michigan had some dumb and costly turnovers last week against Wisconsin, and turnovers have been a problem at times for O’Korn this season. Play safe, and play smart. Don’t give the game away. Make them earn every yard.

3) Don’t Give up Big Plays on Defense

This Ohio State offense is about as explosive as it gets. But the Michigan D has been, for the most part, pretty darn good this year, especially considering how little help they’ve gotten from the offense. Nonetheless, there have been times where they’ve given up big plays. At Penn State, they looked overwhelmed by the pace of the Nittany Lions’ spread offense and gave up some pretty big plays to RB Saquon Barkley. Last week against Wisconsin, they were mostly pretty solid. But you did see a few long runs from Jonathan Taylor. Michigan played a pretty aggressive game on defense and blitzed a lot. At times, Wisconsin was able to block it up quickly on some gap scheme plays and once Taylor got through to the secondary, there was no one left to tackle him.

I’m not saying Michigan shouldn’t blitz, but they need to understand that if they’re going to win this game, it’s going to be on defense. Perhaps they’ve known this all year, and it’s caused them to press a bit on D. Nonetheless, just one or two big plays can change a game. For this Michigan D, you have to be sound, disciplined, and patient. Keep everything in front of you, and make them earn every yard. Don’t feel the need to make the game changing play on every play, and don’t get impatient. As Bill Belichick would say, “do your job”, and the rest will come naturally.

4) Get Something out of the Passing Game

John O’Korn probably isn’t going to throw for 300 yards. In fact, I would hope that he doesn’t, because if he does, it probably means that Michigan got behind early and had to play catch-up. But what O’Korn does need to do is give Michigan at least something in the passing game to help them move the ball and keep the defense honest.

I heard a lot of people upset when Michigan QB Brandon Peters left the game with a head injury last week. Many pundits said that Michigan seemed to give up after he left. Is there some truth to this? Maybe. But let’s not overplay it. Peters certainly seemed to give the offense a spark when Harbaugh pulled O’Korn for him earlier in the year. And when people say that, what it usually means is that the team played better when he was under center, not necessarily that he was the driving force behind the team playing better. And this remains true for Michigan. Peters made some good throws here and there. He seemed more willing to throw down the field than O’Korn was, and he certainly was able to avoid the turnovers in a way that O’Korn wasn’t.

However, the truth of the matter is that for the games Peters played in, Michigan just didn’t ask him to do that much. He didn’t break 20 attempts or 160 yards passing in any of the games he played. Maybe he would have played better than O’Korn did, but can we really say for sure that the losses to the Spartans and Nittany Lions under O’Korn would have been wins if Peters had played? Of course we can’t. The Spartans game, you could maybbbeee make an argument. The Nittany Lions game I watched from start to end, and actually thought O’Korn threw the ball okay. But the offensive line was completely overwhelmed, and Penn State got up big early. With the energy they showed at that stadium (it was the whiteout night in the crowd), it was pretty clear that wasn’t Michigan’s game to win. Peters got the easier part of Michigan’s schedule, outside of the beginning of last week’s Wisconsin game.

Michigan did have a short period of time when they looked good last week with Peters under center. He hit a nice big play to end the half that led to a TD. It was a seven step drop post route on first down, a basic shot play, yet the kind of play out of the passing game that has been missing from Michigan’s offense and their bottled up air attack. For a little bit in that game, Michigan looked like they were gaining momentum.

But there were two key series early in the second half that Michigan failed to take advantage of: The first they had a short field off of a punt when Wisconsin was backed up (they didn’t get anything out of it), and the second was after they intercepted Wisconsin’s QB but only were able to kick a field goal instead of cashing in for six. Shortly after that, Wisconsin took the momentum back. Peters also had some costly mistakes early in the first half, including a bad fumble while trying to dive for a TD. The point being, while O’Korn certainly did nothing to inspire anyone once he replaced the injured Peters, Michigan was missing opportunities and struggling under Peters in that game as well, despite the promise that he did show.

None of this is to knock Peters or prop up O’Korn. We just have to remember that Peters was a freshman who wasn’t asked to do much in limited game action, and that regardless of who Michigan’s Quarterback is, they’re not going to be the driving force behind this offense. The point being, Michigan can’t fall into the trap of thinking this game is over and they have no chance just because Peters is injured, because while it’s unfortunate, it’s simply not that big a deal. Next man up. Go out there, lift your head up, and play offense.

Having said that, O’Korn can’t do nothing and expect to win this game. You’re not going to win this game with under 100 yards passing. He needs to convert some 3rd downs, complete the passes that are there, and maybe hit a shot play or two. Nothing big, but we need something from him.

5) Be in the Moment and Take Advantage of the Atmosphere

Forget Harbaugh, the money, the record, the standings, everything we talked about earlier. This is the last game of the season before your bowl. This is Ohio State vs Michigan at the Big House. The crowd, hopefully, will be packed and roaring, and there will be energy and excitement in the atmosphere. This is a one game season. Go out there and show everyone what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine. This is a heated and intense rivalry, and for the Wolverines, there’s only one thing that matters next Saturday, only one thing that should be on your mind: Kicking the shit out of Ohio State. Go in and play with that mindset, and a win won’t be far off.

Conclusion

It certainly hasn’t been the year many expected for the Maize and Blue. This year we learned that while they’re a good team, they just weren’t quite ready to compete with the big boys yet.

Certainly the questions have begun and will continue to be asked. The pundits are already getting their typewriters warmed up for what will likely be a long offseason of questions about Harbaugh and if he’s up for this job. If he’s good enough to compete with the top class of the Big Ten.

But man, wouldn’t it be something to end the season with an upset win over No 9 Ohio State? To get a win over a rival despite all the odds, to show the country that you can compete in the Big Ten and that you’re not destined to keep losing to the likes of Ohio State? That certainly would end the season on a high note and quiet the whispers, if only for just a bit.

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